May’s most exciting games (and teams)by Chris Jaffe
June 01, 2012
Last year I debuted a system for evaluating what are the most exciting postseason series of all-time. Earlier this year I noted I’ve modified the system a bit to look at regular season games. I’ve already discussed what the most exciting games of April were. Now let’s look at May’s.
Of the 425 battles that took place in May, here are the top five.
5. May 8: Pirates 5, Nationals 4. 51.3 points
In April, only one game scored at over 50 points—the Philip Humber perfecto. This month, five did. Advantage: May.
This game was pretty routine most of the way through—tight, but routine. Heading into the bottom of the eighth, it was 2-2. Then the hometown Pirates turned a walk, an error, and a fly ball into a run for a 3-2 lead.
They didn’t get to enjoy it long, as the first two Nationals batters in the ninth singled and homered to give Washington a 4-3 lead.
But in this whiplash-inducing finale, that also wouldn’t hold up. In the bottom of the ninth, Alex Presley conked a pinch-hit single for Pittsburgh, and then scampered all the way to third on back-to-back wild pitches. (Don’t see that every day.) Then, with the Pirates down to their last out, Rod Barajas connected for a walk-off home run.
I should note all five games here ended in walk-off home runs. Maybe that’s a bit repetitive, but if you think about many of the greatest games in baseball history, a whole heckuva lot end in walk-off dingers—the Carlton Fisk game, the Kirk Gibson game, the Bill Mazeroski game, the David Freese game, etc.
Games don’t become great because of what happens in the seventh inning. Games become great because of a compelling finish. And walk-off home runs are the most compelling finish of all. And look at this game—lead change after lead change in the most dramatic of innings—the last ones. That’s why it scores so high.
4. May 2: Braves 15, Phillies 13 (11 innings). 56 points
Last month, this would’ve been the No. 1 game. But in May, it has to settle for No. 4.
Fun game. It looked like it would be a one-sided blowout as Philadelphia jumped out to a 6-0 lead and had Roy Halladay on the mound. However, showing the problems that would soon land him on the DL, Halladay couldn’t hold it. In just an inning and a half, it was Atlanta 8, Philadelphia 6.
But no lead was safe on this day, and the Phillies stormed back to a 12-8 lead with just six outs to go. But then, they allowed five runs before getting three outs and entered the ninth trailing 13-12.
Again, a lead wasn't safe and one out from defeat Shane Victorino singled in the tying run to send the game into extra innings.
Atlanta pulled out the victory anyway, as Chipper Jones belted a two-run walk-off homer in the 11th. Yeah, that’s a pretty nice game.
3. May 8: A’s 7, Blue Jays 3. 57.3 points.
Until this month, I never had to handle a walk-off grand slam. I decided to give it extra points, beyond what I’d normally give a walk-off home run (which itself was already a bonus on top of a normal walk-off win).
The bonus upon the bonus helps this game score so high, as Oakland won on a walk-off four-run blast by Brandon Inge, playing in just his seventh game since Oakland picked him up.
There was more to this game than a walk-off slam, though. It was 2-2 heading into the ninth when Toronto took the lead in the top of the inning. That’s worth some points. And Oakland’s rally tied it before Inge came to the plate. But the walk-off slam is the most exciting swing imaginable. Normally walk-off slams are pretty dang rare, but danged if they didn’t happen fairly frequently in May 2012.
2. May 13: Marlins 8, Mets 4. 59 points.
This was similar to the previous game, just with a slightly more impressive comeback. Once again, it was 2-2 entering the ninth. Once again the visiting team scored in its half of the inning. This time the Mets scored two runs, giving the Marlins a slightly bigger hole to crawl out of than the A’s had in their game. Basically, that’s why this game scores higher.
The bottom of the ninth was the stuff of nightmares for the Mets relievers. They allowed a leadoff triple and things got worse from there. The Marlins began it with a triple, walk, and RBI single. Then a sacrifice fly tied it.
Still, it looked like extra innings beckoned as the Mets coaxed a pop-up from Omar Infante. At this point the Marlins had two outs and a man on first. Instead of an easy end to the inning, Hanley Ramirez fought like the devil, fouling off offerings in an eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk. Then Austin Kearns reached on a hit by pitch to load the bases. Then Giancarlo Stanton ended it with his walk-off slam.
1. May 13: Reds 9, Nationals 6. 60 points.
The top three games are all walk-off grand slams. Perhaps I put too much emphasis upon that play. Then again, can you thing of a more dramatic end? Me either.
This was a back-and-forth game. Cincinnati’s early 1-0 lead became a 2-1 deficit. The Reds tied it 2-2 only to see the Nationals pull ahead, seemingly for good. Heading into the bottom of the eighth, it was 6-3 Washington.
In the eighth, Jay Bruce doubled in a pair of runs to make it close. That set up the ninth, which is when the fun real fun happened. Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter got on, but the next two batters made outs. Down to the last out, back-to-back batters walked to load the bases.
Up came the last Red the Nationals ever wanted to see: Joey Votto. You see, Votto isn’t just an outstanding young talent—he’s an outstanding young talent having the game of his life. In his first trip to the plate, he homered to give the Reds a 1-0 lead. His second time up, he went deep again to tie it, 2-2. Now here he was again, with the bases loaded. Boom —grand slam.
The game gets points for ending with a walk-off win, extra points as a walk-off homer, and even more extra bonus points as a walk-off slam. Having a lead change in the ninth always earns points. This contest gets more points for having a series of lead changes across the way. Finally, Votto belting three dingers in one game gets it more points as well. And thus it’s No. 1 for the month, and so far for the year.
The system I use is just a rough guide. Looking over the games I’d go with the Phillies-Braves shootout from May 2, but they were all great contests.
Most exciting team of May: Cubs: 253.8 points
Finally, as long as I've got the info, let’s look at what team’s games score as the most exciting.
The Cubs win this one, which is odd given how little else they won on the month.
How’d they score so high? Well, a half-dozen of their games ended in walk-off wins. Two were wins for the Cubs, the other four were wins for the opponents. (Man, the Cubs bullpen has not been good this year.)
Given the above paragraph, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that Cubs games had a lot of late drama in general. Five times a team entering the ninth tied the score, and four times took the lead.
Wait—if there were six walk-offs how come there were only four times a team took the lead in the ninth? Because there were also three extra-inning games.
The Cubs played in a bunch of close games, nearly a dozen decided by one run, including a pair of 1-0 finals, which is worth a little extra. They also had a handful of games settled by a difference of two runs.
There were also some shutouts, some low-hit pitching performances, various comebacks and a few eighth inning lead changes. In all, there were a lot of elements that make baseball games exciting.
Their highest scoring game of the month was a May 11 loss to the Brewers, 8-7. The Cubs entered the top of the ninth trailing and took the lead. Then the Brewers came from behind to tie in the bottom of the ninth and then win it in the 13th frame.
The Cubs were a fun team to watch in May—provided you weren’t rooting for them to win.
Least exciting team of May: Yankees: 96.5 points
What can I say? There wasn’t too much dramatic about Yankee games in May. They did have a game end in a walk-off homer, but that was the only walk-off they had or allowed. Only five games of theirs were decided by one run. None went into extra innings. Not many had late-inning lead changes. They won safely or lost safely.
In May, an average game scored at six points. The Yankees had just three games score that well.
For May at any rate, it was better to be an unexciting team than an exciting one. After all, the Yankees are having a better season than the Cubs.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.