Every sports fan loves the close game. The “Hail Mary” pass in football is a thrill whether it works or not. The same is true in basketball when the clock has less than a tick remaining and the ball is drifting towards the hoop. Hockey fans delight when the goalie is removed for an extra skater as the team tries to hammer home the tying goal. Even in soccer, as we just witnessed in the Women’s World Cup, has an increase in the feigning of injuries as teams try to kill the clock.
All those sports end up doing extraordinary things in order to beat both the other team and the clock and it is indeed incredibly exciting. Baseball works at its own pace even in close game. Leads change, or they don’t. Scoring comes late, or it doesn’t. But nevertheless baseball games create their own excitement in close games.
I was trying to think if there are any unique things that a team can do to produce a tying or winning score such as in the other sports. Pinch-hitters and pinch-runners are part of the fabric of the game and can and are used at any point in the game, regardless of score. Sac bunts, hit-and-run, run-and-hit, stolen bases, are not at all really so unusual that they would be used as a signal of desperation.
It is only defensively that something beyond the norm is used and that is when intentional walks are issued to load the bases and create a force at any base or when the infield and outfield are brought in with a runner on third to prevent a score or in those rare circumstances, when an innovative manager like Joe Maddon brings an outfielder in and creates a five-man infield.
Part of the beauty of baseball is that there are often very close games, creating much angst, even in without the added influence of a clock ticking down.
Last night, there were seven one-run games and three two-run games. That’s a great night of baseball. And, what makes it even better each game had its own set of circumstances and situations that made the game so special.
My favorite last night was between the Tigers and the Indians, the two teams battling for the one postseason slot for an AL Central representative. The Indians won, 3-2 in 14 innings on a walkoff hit by pitcher. Detroit reliever David Pauley hit Kosuke Fukudome on the left arm with the bases loaded and the Indians moved within three games of the first-place Tigers. Check this out: the Indians have won in last at-bat in each of their four wins over Tigers at Progressive Field this season and three of them have been walkoffs. Not only that, the last four wins at the Jake (you can call it Progressive Field if you like, I’m going old-school) have been walkoffs and they now have nine on the season. If you knew that the last Indian to have walkoff HBP was Alex Cole on June 11, 1991 against the Jays in the 12th, than you are a better Tribe fan than me. However, I can tell you that there have been 1077 players hit by pitches this season and Fukodome is the second to produce a walkoff win. The first was when Justin Turner was hit by Brad Ziegler to give the Mets a win over the A’s on June 22.
Then there was the walkoff single by Josh Hamilton in the 9th that gave the Rangers a 7-6 win over the Mariners. This was a different kind of close game. Each team scored two in the 1st and one in the 2nd. The Mariners scored three in the 3rd, but the Rangers scored a pair in the 7th, one in the 8th before completing the comeback in the 9th. Baseball is great for comebacks and the Rangers have comeback from three or more runs in three of the first five games of the current homestand alone. The Rangers now have six walkoff wins to go with their six walkoff losses.
In every other sport, the win can be on the last play of the game. Baseball adds a caveat: the win can be on the last play of the game only if you are the home team. That’s why the title of my book is “Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs” (autograph copies are still available at a discounted price by writing me at Walkoffs@gmail.com). When on the road, the winning run is first known as the “go-ahead” run. That’s what happened when the Braves scored a run in the 11th on a Martin Prado single to edge the Marlins, 4-3. The other element of excitement in that game was determined early on as Dan Uggla had a 5th inning infield single ito extend his hitting streak to 30 games to tie Andre Ethier for the majors’ longest hitting streak of the season. Here are the 10 longest streaks in Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves history. Uggla has the lowest batting among the 10.
Then there are those situations when a team scores in their last at bat and it’s not a walkoff. That was the case last night in New York as the Mets scored three times in the 8th to edge the Padres, 5-4. Met fans had to sit with their fingers crossed as Jason Isringhausen earned his 299th career save and the Mets closed out the win like this for the second night in a row as the Mets who trailed by four runs in the 8th inning Monday and won. According to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau the last time the Mets won consecutive games when trailing by two or more in the 8th inning or later was April 1965 at San Francisco.
Some one run games have the scoring end early and the two teams play it out to see if something changes. The Red Sox scored a run in the top of the 7th and then nothing changed, the Sox continued to win and the Twins continued to lose. The winning run scored when Big Papi, David Ortiz, hit a little roller and the Sox won 4-3 sending Minnesota to its sixth straight loss. Hey, hey, hey, Matt Albers picked up the vulture win.
The scoring ended in the 5th inning as the Rockies pushed across a run and sent the Reds to their fifth loss in six games in a 3-2 win as the two teams battle to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated first.
Then there is the one-run game that isn’t a one run game until the rally falls short. That was the case last night as the Phillies edged the Dodgers, 2-1. LA was glad to see Cliff Lee leave the game after eight scoreless frames. Lee, not only permitted just four hits and struck out 10, but he homered in the 7th inning and his lead-extending run turned out to be the winning run as the Dodgers scored once in the 9th but their rally fell short off Ryan Madson. The Phillies have won 11-of-12 and are 36 games over .500 (76-40) for the first time since 1977.
Sometimes a two-run game feels as if its a one-run game like last night in the crucial matchup between the Brewers and the Cardinals in St. Louis. That game was tied 3-3 after nine but a big double by Casey McGehee was part of two-run 10th inning rally and Milwaukee won, 5-3. Milwaukee has now won 12 of 13.
The Angels 6-4 win over the Yankees in New York truly felt more like a one run game. The two teams were 4-4 going into the 9th when Bobby Abreu hit his second homer of the game, this one a two-run blast off Mariano Rivera (be concerned Yankee Universe) to give the Angels the lead. But this game was far from over as the New Yawkahs had runners on the corners with two down in the bottom of the 9th with Mark Teixeira and his 32 homers at the plate. But this game ended on a defensive walkoff pickoff as Curtis Granderson was trapped trying to steal second as Jordan Walden successfully pulled off the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff play to end the contest.
The Diamondbacks, 11-9 victory over the Hapless Astros almost feels mundane in comparison to the other one- and two-run games, but this one was significant by the fact that Arizona was trailing in this matchup 7-1 and their comeback ties their team record for the largest in history. The Astros are now 40 games under .500 at 38-78 and have to go 25-21 to avoid losing 100 games for the first time in franchise history.
I should add that the Giants defeated the Pirates last night 6-0. The irony here is that on this night of close games, no team has won more one-run games than San Francisco.
It was a great night to be a baseball fan.