Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Well, the girl (Debbie Reynolds as Molly Brown) may be
"unsinkable," but she (and the O's) better not venture
too much further out on that tree limb....
The highly improbable story of the Baltimore Orioles continued into the wee hours last night, as the seemingly unsinkable ones rallied with two in the ninth in Seattle to knot the score at 2-2 and then proceeded to play an entire games' worth of extra innings before pushing over two more in the 18th for a 4-2 win.

It was the fourteenth consecutive extra-inning win for the O's (now 14-2) on the season, and it serves to burnish their mystique a bit further as they continue their quest for the post-season.

Our old "pal" Joe Sheehan, having bet on what we earlier revealed to be a "7% solution" (teams that were 29-17 to start the season wound up at or over .500 in 93% of all cases), has officially gone down in flames, as the O's have firmly passed the 81-win horizon. Soothsaying ain't for sissies, even in the "neo" sub-culture that tends to sweep even the loudest of incorrect predictions under the rug.

But let's focus on what the title says we're supposed to be focusing on, OK? And that is...the subject of extra-inning games. Fourteen consecutive wins from inning ten on is remarkable, but it's not a record. The 1949 Cleveland Indians won 17 consecutive extra-inning games, but they didn't make the post-season. (Back then, of course, you either won the pennant or you went home. Things are much more flexible now.)

Let's ask a few questions about extra-inning games using the Orioles as a point of departure.

1) Just how good is 14-2 relative to other performances? Using all teams where data is available (roughly from 1918 to the present, which can be located at the Play Index at Forman et fil), the O's currently rank 15th all time with that 14-2 mark. If they should play another one and lose, they'd drop down to 33rd all time.

When we limit the data to teams who played at least ten extra-inning games in a single year, however, the O's move up to 9th place. [EDIT: With yet another extra-inning win in Seattle on September 19, the Orioles moved to 15-2 and fifteen wins in a row, and are now 14th and 7th on those respective rankings.]

It seems that extra inning games and success have found a way to rendezvous in Cleveland. Not only did those 1949 Indians have their record 17-game win streak, but they finished 18-1 in extra-inning games that year. Another Indians team that might be more familiar to many of you, the 1995 squad, actually went undefeated in extra-inning games, going 13-0 that year. They made it to the World Series,   where they won another game with extra frames, but went 1-4 in nine-inning affairs.

The 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates were 19-2 in extra-inning games. And the 1969 Bucs went 12-1. So there is apparently something in that industrial corridor (high concentrations of ground glass, perhaps?) that seems to produce performance extremes in extra innings.

On the other side of the coin, the 1969 Montreal Expos were 0-12 in games with extra frames. (They were 52-98 in all the others.) This years' edition of the Astros are currently 1-11. The 1982 Twins finished 1-12 in extra-inning games.

2) Who has won the most extra-inning games? Who has played the most extra-inning games? All  of this is also available at Forman et fil. It turns out that those 1959 Pirates hold the record for most wins in extra innings, with the 19. The 1988 Expos and those 1949 Indians each won 18. The 1999 Braves won 17.

The record for most extra-inning games in season (so far as we know--keep in mind that we're still missing the records for most of the deadball era) is 31, set by the Boston Red Sox in 1943. Their record was 15-14, which reminds us that there used to be a small number of extra-inning games that ended in ties, before the rules about that were cleaned up...that stopped occurring around 1983, according to the data.

The team in the fewest extra-inning games? The 1936 St. Louis Browns, with just three. The team with the fewest games with extra frames thus far in 2012: the Yankees, with just six.

3) What is overall historical percentage of extra-inning games? Ah, good--the perfect excuse for a chart. The overall percentage is 9.3%, or about 15 per 162 games. As the chart shows, that percentage has been going down at a noticeable rate since 1993 (see the summary table for more data). There wasn't time to cross-reference extra-inning games against league runs per game, but we suspect that there's a significant correlation there.

What's interesting in the chart is that spike in 1943--apparently ye olde balata ball and its downward impact on run scoring that year just got everyone's knickers twisted and they just wanted to keep playing and playing and playing (13.8% of all games went long). There was a similar spike in 1957: it might be interesting to look at those two years to see just what was going on...

It's kind of ironic that in an age when pitching staffs have become swollen and bloated (kind of like what would have happened to Molly Brown if she had allowed herself to get stuck in a Utah mining camp...), the percentage of extra inning games would, well, sink. There's an oddly comforting irony in that, at least for those of us who are comforted by irony.

4) What about all-time team won-loss records in extra-inning games? After nearly 100 years of data, do the WPCTs even out? Boy, what a great question...but let's spend a few precious lines of text patting ourselves on the back for asking it (when, in fact, we are merely trying to take up enough space--you know, the thing that journalists called--back when we actually had journalists--"column inches"?

Before any term that used the word "inches" was not immediately subject to the vagaries of the porn police?

And yes, those of you who've camped out here and gritted your teeth--bad habit, by the way, you better go see your dentist--know that we really can keep it up all night, but for the sake of saving you from throwing your laptop across the room in disgust, we will cease and desist right after we mention that Debbie Reynolds is actually a good bit sexier than just about anyone is willing to give her credit for...

Don't believe us? Clearly, then, you've never seen the original version of "Debbie Does Dallas"...) [EDIT: Yes, yes, we are only joshing: Debbie was never so promiscuous, though daughter Carrie Fisher freely admits that her mom had "terrible taste in men."]

The short answer (does anyone remember the question?) is no. (And yes, lit fans, either David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen or William Gaddis or Ralph Cusack once constructed a parenthesis that went on for upwards of a hundred pages, so don't think we're anywhere the extra-inning record for chronic digression.) As you can see, the Cincinnati Reds have been paying off someone for the better part of a century, managing to amass nearly a hundred more wins than losses in extra-inning games.

But look who's second on the list (if you don't count the small sample sizes, of course. You should use the small samples only when you are preparing your carry-on luggage, so that you won't get arrested for having subversive shampoo.) Yes, yes indeed: our old friends, the Baltimore Orioles, blessed by a change of venue and a new name provided by baseball's version of the witness protection program.