18 again!

It happened again. Not twice on the same day like last Saturday, as I wrote about very soon afterward, but once is notable enough. A baseball game went 18 innings Thursday, this time in Oakland as the A’s staggered past the Yankees, 3-2.

My theory is that the rash of no-hitters over the last few years became passe. The baseball gods needed something fresh to keep themselves amused. That’s why the no-no spigot has been turned off—had you noticed the absence yet?—and the marathon game floodgates have opened. As analytical theories go, its saving grace is that it makes as much sense as anything else at this point.

For those keeping score at home, that is four 18-plus inning baseball games this season, and three in the span of six days. Four marathons in a year isn’t that uncommon, and I’ll go over the instances in a bit. As for three such games in less than a week, it’s hard to say when that’s last happened, since comprehensive records go back only to 1916. (Unless Baseball-Reference has updated while I’ve been typing this sentence. Lemme check. Nope.) The best guess is, “never.” The closest on record is a stretch from Aug. 1 to 10, 1972*.

* One of the games, White Sox vs. A’s, was suspended after 17 innings and completed the next day, Aug. 11. Close enough. Oh, and the Phillies-Mets game was the opener of a double-header. The starters for the nightcap both went the distance—like it or not!

This season is currently tied for the fourth most marathon games (that’s my term for 18-plus inning affairs, and I’m sticking with it) ever. Six other seasons are recorded as having had four: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1984, 1985 and 2006. (Note that those are all well into the expansion era.) Two seasons are tied for second at six games apiece, 1918 and 1972, the former being more impressive for having just 16 teams available churn out all those double-your-pleasure contests.

The big year, though, is 1967. An amazing nine games went 18 innings or longer that year. The New York Yankees and Washington Senators each had to play three, though the wrung-out Yanks had the pleasure of beating the arch-rival Red Sox in two of them. New York’s third was a loss to the Twins. If the last days of that storied pennant race had turned out differently, we might still be speaking today of how New York’s performance in marathon games turned the whole season and handed Minnesota the flag.

The benchmark set in 1967 is within reach this season. Only around two-fifths of the games have been played so far. If this pace is maintained—all regression warnings do apply here—we’d end up with a total of 10 marathons. It’s worth noting, however, that the record was set with 20 teams in the majors rather than 30, thus only two-thirds as many games available to play. If we want to beat the marathon-per-game pace of ’67, we’d need to see 14 before the final out of the year.

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think I could stand the strain.

Two notes before closing. First, the visiting Yankees once again did in this situation what visiting teams always seem to do in extra-inning affairs. They held out their closer, inning after inning, waiting for his save opportunity. Thus, we were treated to the spectacle of Adam Warren pitching six innings deep into extras for the Yankees before Mariano Rivera even got a sniff of the mound.

The irony here is that the Yankees would lose the game with Mariano on the mound. Not that he technically lost it: the winning run was already on base when Joe Girardi finally let him go out to play. Someone should have checked his freshness dating: “Best if used before 16th inning.”

Second, this spate of marathon games really should get our readers to go back and look over my article last year analyzing the effect that such games have on the teams that play them, win or lose. With all the added material I’m getting this season, I may be revisiting the subject before very long.

Of course, we may all be revisiting the subject before long, if those bothersome baseball gods have anything to say about it. Perfect games are out; 18-inning games are in!

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A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.

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3 Comments on "18 again!"

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Paul G.
Paul G.

This probably falls in small sample size territory, but it would be interesting to see the real life success rate for visiting team closer usage in extra inning games, and for that matter games tied in the ninth.  In theory we know that it makes more sense to use the relief ace earlier than wait for his save situation, especially if it involves warming him up over and over again, but do teams that bring the closer in earlier actually do better?  Is there anything to the idea that using the closer outside of his “comfort zone” produces sub-optimal results?

Tom Dockery
Tom Dockery

One of those 1967 Yankee games was in the second game of a doubleheader on Aug.29.I watched only the last 8 innings of that 20 inning affair after having watched the last episode of the Fugitive.

Shane Tourtellotte
Shane Tourtellotte
Great anecdote, Tom.  I wonder how many Red Sox and Yankees players were fans of the show, hoping to finish up their game in time to catch the finale.  Given that their evenings were often taken up with doing their jobs, probably not as many as one might think. Also, what a different time, when a highly successful network TV series could air its eagerly anticipated final episode in late August.  May sweeps weren’t quite then what they are today. There is one more pertinent question your anecdote raises … but I think I will save that one.  It may… Read more »