Four teams, 38 innings, one historic day

Something happened Saturday in baseball that has happened only once before in the last 97 years, and possibly ever: two separate games went 18 innings or more.

The Toronto Blue Jays finally walked off with a 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers in 18, and the Miami Marlins outlasted the host New York Mets in 20. For anyone watching either game, or just watching their progress on tickers or apps, it was a delirious day of baseball.

The Rangers-Blue Jays game came much closer to ending in regulation, as Toronto entered the ninth with a 3-1 advantage. However, closer Casey Janssen suffered his first blown save of the season in letting Texas pull even.

In the time it took the next run to score, you could have played an entire other game. The end came in ignominy for the Rangers, as a two-out pickoff throw by Ross Wolf went wide and rolled merrily down the line, letting Emilio Bonifacio scamper all the way to third. Rajai Davis‘ single then brought him in.

The Mets’ defeat, of course, was by far the more humiliating. They lost to the Miami Marlins.

Miami tied that game 1-1 in the top of the fourth inning, and in the time it took the next run to score, MLB could have crafted an expanded replay policy. (All right, I exaggerate. No time span is long enough for that.) Adeiny Hechavarria singled Placido Polanco in, and while the Marlins tried to make up for that competence by getting Rob Brantly thrown out at third on the play, it wasn’t enough. The Mets went down in order, starting with a Rick Ankiel strikeout because that’s what Ankiel does. (He entered the game in the 13th and still managed to strike out three times.)

Had you told people in 2000 that Rick Ankiel would be a noted strikeout artist in 2013, people would have thought they knew what you meant.

Sadly, two 18-plus-inning games in one day is not quite unique in baseball history, though it’s only sad for me looking for a hook for this article. Just seven years ago, on August 15, 2006, the double-double* got pulled for the first time in the Baseball-Reference era (currently dating to 1916).

The Chicago Cubs beat the Houston Astros, 8-6, and the Arizona Diamondbacks wore out the Colorado Rockies, 2-1, both in 18 innings. Both road teams were winners that day—and yes, that means Coors Field hosted a game in which three runs were scored in 18 innings. That humidor works better than I thought.

* “Double-double” because two games went twice the regulation length. It’s NBA Finals time: I had to make that gratuitous reference.

Casting about for that elusive hook, I looked at combined length. Is 38 innings the longest two games on the same day have lasted put together? Alas, the hook eluded me again. On September 11, 1974, the Cardinals beat the Mets at Shea, 4-3 in 25 innings, and the Orioles walked off against the Yankees, 3-2 in 17. That’s a combined 42 innings, beating Saturday’s double-marathon by four frames.

It took a while longer, but I discovered my hook. How do you like this: the Texas-Toronto game, at 18 innings, is the longest a game has ever gone without being the longest game played that day, even by a tie. Yes! My titular promise of history is vindicated! Okay, maybe it’s history of the “Vice-President Andrew Johnson gets blotto at his own inauguration” type, but I’ll take it.

Still, I’ll provide you with a little more value for your web-browsing time with a few extra geeky facts about these twin nigh-eternal games.

Reliever Shaun Marcum pitched the final eight innings for the Mets. He accumulated a 0.556 WPA in the process—and this counts his surrendering the game-losing run in the 20th inning. How often will you find a game’s losing pitcher credited with over half a WPA win?

How often will you see a reliever pull that trick? Miami’s Kevin Slowey pitched the first seven of those innings in tandem with Marcum, and he accumulated a 0.877 WPA. He got the win, and I don’t think even our John Barten will begrudge it to him.

Those who have been reading here regularly for the past year will have heard of my WPS system for calculating the excitement of a baseball game. I decided to apply the method to the two games of Saturday to see how far they push the needle.

The answer: pretty darn far. As a quick reminder, a score of 300 is roughly average; 500 counts as a “great” game; 900 gets you into all-time mind-blowing awesomeness territory.

The Mets-Marlins game scored a 944.7 and was easily the less exciting of the two. The Rangers-Blue Jays came out at 1096.3.

(The difference comes down partly to 1-2-3 innings in extras. Miami-New York had eight, while Texas-Toronto had but five. Quick innings like that add little excitement to the game. It’s the high-wire acts where a pitcher nearly gives up a run but doesn’t that reliably ramp up the score. Actually, giving up runs only to have the opponents tie it back up is much better but also much less common.)

Neither of those games can quite measure up to our Chris Jaffe’s choice as the greatest game ever: the Mets-Braves 19-measure symphony of July 4-5, 1985. That one tallies a 1288 in my WPS system, not counting the post-game fireworks that woke up the neighborhood at 4:00 in the morning.

And I would be a poor writer if I did not cite my own work yet again when I had the chance. Last year, in the aftermath of another super-long game, I studied whether such games hurt a team in days and weeks to follow. My conclusion was that, yes, they cost a team about one game over the next month.

So Toronto and Miami may have won a game, but history says they are likely to give it right back by the All-Star break. As for the Rangers and the Mets, there is very little comfort I can give them.

Well, I can give a bit to Texas. At least you didn’t lose to the Marlins.

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  1. Greg Simons said...

    Shane, I’m curious how Wednesday’s 16-inning contest between the White Sox and Mariners scored in your WPS system.  That 14th inning, in which both teams scored five runs, was freakish.

  2. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Some guy:  Actually, it isn’t.  It used to be customary to have double-headers across the league on major holidays, piling up big numbers of games and thus innings.  One example I found quickly was Memorial Day, May 30, 1962.  All 10 AL teams and six of the 10 NL squads played twin bills, for a total of 18 games.  With four extra-inning games that day, the bigs played a total of 179 innings, as opposed to 166 yesterday.

    And I am not assuming that is the record, either.

  3. Todd said...

    And I’d be curious to know how the Mets’ other recent 20-inning affair (2010 @ Cardinals) ranked. It was certainly exciting to watch in person, but I don’t know how much of that translates numerically.

  4. some guy said...

    Ahh, of course I forgot about scheduled doubleheaders.

    How’d you find that out? Or is it just one of those quirky things you just know? I’ve been messing around with the play index but can’t figure it out.

  5. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Some guy:  I did some research on double-headers a while back for THT, and the holiday scheduling stuck in my mind.  I checked first with the schedules provided at Retrosheet, picking 1962 because it was the first year with 20 teams in the majors, but was still early enough that the old tradition of holiday double-headers might still be in force.  It was, and the combination put Memorial Day over the top.  Fourth of July might have done even better.

  6. Ed Pseudol said...

    Most total outs in one day (1918-2010)
    Total, Extra, G, Look
    1118 , 23 , 21 ,
    1081 , 28 , 20 ,
    1080 , 42 , 20 ,
    1077 , 27 , 20 ,
    1076 , 29 , 20 ,
    1071 , 24 , 20 ,
    1068 , 14 , 20 ,
    1052 , 0 , 20 ,
    1052 , 100 , 18 ,

    Most outs in extra innings in one day (1918-2010)
    Extra, Total, G, Look
    150 , 867 , 14 ,
    130 , 505 , 7 ,
    117 , 810 , 13 ,
    112 , 850 , 14 ,
    108 , 579 , 9 ,
    108 , 897 , 15 ,
    108 , 800 , 13 ,
    104 , 893 , 15 ,
    104 , 524 , 8 ,
    103 , 793 , 13 ,
    102 , 528 , 8 ,
    100 , 1052 , 18 ,
    100 , 688 , 11 ,

  7. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Greg:  Chicago-Seattle came out to a 961 (by B-R stats:  could vary somewhat with FanGraphs).  The five-by-five 14th totaled 123 points by itself, which isn’t ridiculously huge.  The trouble is that going ahead by one in extras moves the win probability more than the next four runs do:  there isn’t that much room left before 100 percent.

    Todd:  The Mets-Cardinals madness comes out to 1057.4.  The 19th inning, where the Mets plated one and the Cards tied it back up, scores 155 points, a nice contrast to the 14th above.  What piled up the points in that frame was how the Cardinals’ 19th went back and forth:  walk, CS, double, groundout, RBI single.  That really swings the needle.

    Both of your games suffer a little from being scoreless in regulation:  the WPS system likes high-scoring games.  Of course, it’s easier for a low-scoring game to be tied after nine and starting mounting up the bonus points.

    And Todd, I don’t know whether to be envious of your presence at that game, or glad it wasn’t me.  You had to have been punch-drunk by the end.

  8. Some guy with a question said...

    I was messing around with bref last night and couldn’t find anything except what’s highlighted in this article but maybe someone can shed some light on this.

    Was this the most innings played in one day league wide, ever? We had 16 games due to the doubleheader, these two games and the Nats/Twins also went 11 innings.

    I’m assuming it is, but couldn’t find any definitive proof.

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