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Umpire Foster 'proud' to be part of Yanks-Sox epic

NEW YORK -- Afterward, Marty Foster was proud that he'd been part of the whole thing. Not just for himself, either.

"I'm proud of being part of this game," Foster said.

Especially this game. Foster was the home-plate umpire at Yankee Stadium on Friday night when the Yankees and Red Sox played 19 innings.

It lasted six hours, 49 minutes. There were 628 pitches thrown by 17 pitchers. The Red Sox took leads in the ninth, 16th and 18th innings. The Yankees came back each time.

Finally, in the 19th, the Red Sox won it. Afterward, Foster had an assortment of emotions. He'd worked a 20-inning game in the Minors and had handled first base during a seven-hour, six-minute game in Philadelphia that lasted 18 innings in August 2013.

"It's a privilege to be out there every day," Foster said. "When something weird like that happens, it's nice to see everybody still playing the game, still umpiring, still managing, coaching. It's just a longer version of it.

"It's still professional, still Major Leagues, still on TV every night. That's the job. I'm proud of being part of this game and seeing our crew stay focused, even though it's a tough situation last night and today."

Ball boys kept Foster going with liquids and power bars. He took a foul ball off his head early in the game and one in his abdomen late.

In the end, though, Foster came out of it ready to work third base Saturday. In fact, he said the toughest job was to work first base for almost seven hours until after 2 a.m. Saturday and come back to work the plate for a 1 p.m. start.

That task fell to his fellow umpire, Mike Muchlinski.

"Mike Muchlinski did a heck of a job," Foster said. "It's a quick turnaround. He might have gotten four or five hours of sleep as well. He's got to come back and perform behind the plate. That's tough for him."

One of the challenging parts of a game like that one is that Foster was unfamiliar with all the 17 pitchers, and so he was attempting to learn their repertoire on the fly.

"For the integrity of the game and everything that's going on, I've got to force myself to focus, concentrate," he said. "Everybody's tired. Hitters swinging that lumber for eight times at bat, and they have to come out here today and swing it. That's got to be tiring. It's tough on everybody.

"During the light delay, I had to use the restroom. That's the only time I came off the field. You just focus. OK, it's going to end sometime. You want to make sure you're as good as you can be for both these teams. That's all that was going through my mind. Don't make it a travesty. Don't go outside the zone and hurry things up. Just let them win it. Let the teams win it. Keep focused and concentrate. That's all I can do."

And that knuckleballer? That was Boston's Steven Wright, who pitched the final five innings for the Red Sox.

"The worst part of last night was a quarter of one in the morning, and, 'Oh, here's a knuckleballer,'" Foster said, laughing. "What else is going to happen? The first one he threw, I said, 'I hope this is a knuckleball and not my mind starting to go.'"

Foster's head finally hit the pillow around 3:15, but with the adrenaline still rushing through his body, he estimated he finally got to sleep around 4:30. His phone rang at 9:30.

When the umpiring crew got back to their locker room after the 19 innings, there were text message from umpires around the game, even those on the West Coast. They'd all finished their games, showered and had dinner while the Red Sox and Yankees were still playing.

"You try and do your best. You try and stay consistent," Foster said. "I try to refocus every time another guy comes in. I just focused on every pitch."

When the Yankees got their leadoff man on in the bottom of the 19th, Foster just assumed they were going to tie it back up again. When the two teams kept going at it, each refusing to give in, he appreciated how hard they were going at each other and was reminded that games like this are a reminder of how great the sport is.

"That's what it's all about," Foster said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.