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.