Many of the most exciting and iconic MLB games in history are memorable for their best moments: the walk-off home runs, the stolen bases to set up the scoring of the go-ahead runs, or the strikeouts that fire up the fans and pitchers alike. While some of these games are remembered for their length as well, this is never a complaint about the games; often, in fact, it is a point of fascination, as none of the other four major sports have the potential to have a single game as long as in baseball. While rules have been discussed such as putting a runner on second base to start the inning in extra innings, iconic marathon games are proof that the indefinite nature of extra innings brings unmatched suspense to baseball and that the current extra innings rules must be maintained.
With that in mind, and with the help of some fellow writers, I’ll be taking a look at some of the most dramatic extra inning endings in the postseason since 2010 as a reminder of the excitement that comes with the classic extra innings format.
This 18 inning marathon game resulted in a 3-2 victory for the home field Dodgers, the only game they would win in the series. The lineups featured RF-CF-RF-CF-RF-CF-RF Mookie Betts, CF-LF-CF-LF-CF-LF-CF Jackie Bradley Jr., and PH Clayton Kershaw as three of the 44 players to enter the game, the most in World Series history, with 31 players taking at least 1 plate appearance and 18 pitchers. While it was not loaded with Steve Pearce heroics like much of the rest of the World Series, it featured one of the more incredible recent postseason pitching performances from Nathan Eovaldi with 6 innings of relief despite being credited with the loss. The extra innings weren’t without action, either: the game went to extras tied at 1, with each team scoring a run in the 13th inning to keep the action alive for 5 more intense innings before a walk off home run from Max Muncy, the first World Series walk off homer since 2011 (more on that later). This game featured countless unique occurrences and fascinating statistical oddities, more of which are listed here.
If you’re looking for offense, you’ve found the right game. A 7-6, 11 inning Astros win in Los Angeles in game 2 of the series was trumped by this contest, a 13-12 ‘Stros triumph in 10 innings. The slugfest featured 7 home runs, 8 doubles, and a total of 98 plate appearances, meaning that on average each inning saw almost 10 (!) hitters step to the plate. The Dodgers took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third inning, and looked entirely in control with Clayton Kershaw and his 100-1 career record with a lead of four or more runs on the mound. The Astros fired right back, though, with four runs in the bottom of the third including a three run Yuli Gurriel homer to tie the game at 4. Then it was the Dodgers turn again, with Cody Bellinger launching a three run shot to capture another lead at 7-4. Not an inning later, Jose Altuve hit a three run bomb of his own to tie the game once again at 7. After a scoreless 6th (woah), the Dodgers went up 8-7 in the top of the 7th before the Astros fired back with 4 runs in the bottom of the frame to capture their first lead of the game, 11-8. Both teams tacked on a run in the 8th, and the Dodgers entered the 9th with the same three run deficit. They came within one on a Yasiel Puig homer, and then with the tying run on third and two outs, Chris Taylor singled at exactly midnight to reach the score which would send the game to extras. The Astros held the Dodgers scoreless in the top of the 10th, and in the bottom of the inning Alex Bregman hit a walk-off single to cap off the 5 hour and 17 minute offensive showcase with an Astros win.
This game is a classic, featuring an 8-7, 10 inning victory elongated by a rain delay as the Cubs emerged victorious over the Indians for their first World Series title in 108 years. The series had featured its fair share of drama already: the Indians possessed a 3-1 series lead through 4 games before the Cubs took games 5 & 6 to tie the series and force game 7. The game itself featured 4 home runs, all of which were hit off of either Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, or Aroldis Chapman, three of the most notorious shutdown pitchers in the MLB at the time. Two of those home runs were a leadoff homer off the bat of Dexter Fowler and a bomb off the bat of the 39 year old fan favorite David Ross, which both contributed to the Cubs 6-3 lead going into the bottom of the 8th. The Cubs appeared to have the game locked down before the Indians struck with a rally including a Rajai Davis 2 run homer off of Chapman to tie it up. The Cubs lost all momentum, appearing beat in the ninth inning despite keeping the game tied to send it to extra innings. After the ninth, however, came perhaps the most notorious rain delay in history, a 17 minute break which allowed the Cubs to reinvigorate themselves before coming back to score 2 runs in the top of the 10th capped off by an RBI double from series MVP Ben Zobrist. The Indians didn’t quit, putting up a run in the bottom of the frame, but came up short as Mike Montgomery retired Michael Martinez on a ground out to end one of the most famous game 7s in history.
In Game Six of the 2011 World Series, after falling down 7-4 in the top of the seventh at home, the St. Louis Cardinals were backed into a corner by the Texas Rangers. They managed to tally a fifth run in the eighth, but the situation became dire when third-baseman David Freese stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman were standing on base, following Texas closer Neftali Feliz’s strike out of the substitute left fielder, Allen Craig. Down to his last strike, Freese ripped a triple to right field – plating Pujols and Berkman – and extending the game. A half inning later, the Cardinals faced desperation again, as Cardinals closer Jason Motte had surrendered just his third home run of the season to Josh Hamilton in the form of a two run shot to right center. After Darren Oliver surrendered back-to-back singles, veteran Scott Feldman entered to give up an RBI 5-3 putout to second-baseman Ryan Theriot and intentionally walk Pujols. With the game on the line and the Cardinals down to their last strike again, Berkman sent a line-drive single to center field to bring Jon Jay into the plate and tie the game again before the Cardinals were retired. The Cardinals finally received a chance to breathe as they entered the bottom of the eleventh following a scoreless relief appearance by Jake Westbrook. Mark Lowe stepped to the rubber for the Rangers as ninth-inning savior David Freese returned to the right-handed batters box. Lowe worked the count to 3-2, and on the payoff pitch, fired a 90-mph fastball low and down the middle. Freese lowered his stance and took a golf swing, making history and sending the ball sailing into the lawn next to the batter’s eye in straight-away center, as Joe Buck gave his famous call in St. Louis: “We will see you tomorrow night.” – Mick Callahan
2015 World Series Game 1 & Game 5
The 2015 World Series featured 2 high intensity extra innings games, each with their fair share of quirkiness which may only have been accomplished with that Royals team playing. Game 1 started with the first inside the park home run in the World Series in 86 years by Alcides Escobar on the first pitch of the series. The Mets and Royals fired back and forth for the rest of the game, highlighted by a power outage and a 6 inning 3 run performance by Edinson Volquez mere hours after learning of his father’s death. The Mets entered the bottom of the ninth with a 4-3 lead and Jeurys Familia, one of the best closers in the game, on the mound. In classic postseason fashion, however, Alex Gordon hit a solo homer to tie the game and send it to extras. The teams went scoreless until the 14th, when Eric Hosmer hit a sacrifice fly to cap off the longest, and likely weirdest, World Series game 1 in history.
Game 5 appears much less contentious by the score, but featured its fair share of action and drama as well. The Royals sought to clinch the series, while the Mets looked to keep their season alive at home. The contest featured the same pitching matchup seen in game 1: Matt Harvey and Edinson Volquez. Volquez again pitched charged with emotion after the death of his father had become public, and despite a six inning, one earned run performance, the Royals entered the ninth inning down 2-0. Perhaps more impressive than Volquez to that point was his counterpart Harvey, who had kept the Royals scoreless for eight innings and insisted on going to close out the victory for the Mets. Harvey was unable to record an out, however – Lorenzo Cain walked to open the inning and stole second, and Eric Hosmer doubled off the left field wall to knock Cain in and Harvey out of the game. Hosmer advanced to third on a grounder, and made it home to tie the game with his notorious dash that succeeded thanks to an overthrow from first baseman Lucas Duda. This sent the game to extras, where it remained knotted at 2 until the 12th, when the Royals broke the game open with 5 runs scored off of Addison Reed and brought in shutdown closer Wade Davis to clinch the first title in 30 years in Kansas City.
2014 American League Wild Card Game
One of the most dramatic postseason games in history came in the third AL wild card game in history, where the Royals and A’s met in a clash of small market squads for the first MLB postseason game in Kansas City in 29 years. Despite the fervor in Kauffman Stadium for the Royals, the A’s jumped ahead early in the game, with Brandon Moss smacking a 2 run homer in the top of the first. The Royals halved the lead in the bottom of the frame and later went ahead 3-2 with a 2 run third, but the A’s seized momentum with 5 runs in the 6th inning (including another Brandon Moss homer) to take a commanding 7-3 lead, sucking the energy from the Royals and their fans. This lead lasted until the bottom of the 8th, when the Royals added 3 more, thanks in part to a wild pitch, but still trailed 7-6 after leaving the tying run on third base to end the inning. They held the A’s in the ninth, and in the bottom of the inning tied things up with a run that was very characteristic to their offense: after a Josh Willingham pinch hit single, speed extraordinaire Jarrod Dyson came in as a pinch runner, advancing to second on a groundout, stealing third, and scoring the tying run on a sacrifice fly from Nori Aoki. This late rally reinvigorated the crowd, sending the game to extra innings with the future of each franchise on the line. The tenth and eleventh innings went by scoreless, but in the top of the 12th the A’s added a run to reclaim the lead 8-7. This sent the Royals up to bat in need of at least a run to keep their improbable season alive, and that they got: Eric Hosmer tripled with one out, Christian Colon drove him in to tie it, and Salvador Perez hit a walk-off single to drive in Colon and send the Royals to their first ever division series with a 9-8 win.
2014 National League Division Series Game 2
The Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants both entered the 2014 National League Division Series with high expectations. Following a closely contested 3-2 Giants win in game 1, the signature contest of the series came in Game 2 at Nationals Park. Through eight innings, the Nats led 1-0, thanks to an Anthony Rendon RBI single off of Giants starter Tim Hudson (7.1 IP, 1 ER, 8 K). Then in the top of the 9th, Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann, who had had very little trouble with the Giants through 8.2 innings (1 ER, 3 H, 6 K), walked second baseman Joe Panik. In one of the most notorious moments in Washington Nationals history, manager Matt Williams emerged from the dugout and signaled toward the bullpen. Zimmermann’s immaculate outing was over, and he was pulled in favor of reliever Drew Storen. Unfortunately for the Nationals, Storen promptly gave up a single to Buster Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval, scoring Panik from second. The game advanced to extra innings thanks to a game saving throw from Bryce Harper. Save a few scattered hits, the offense was scarce until the top of the 18th inning. With Tanner Roark pitching, no outs, and a full count, Giants first baseman Brandon Belt absolutely launched a solo home run into the second deck in right field at Nationals Park to put the Giants ahead 2-1, a lead that would hold after Washington could muster only a walk against Hunter Strickland in the bottom of the 18th. The win gave San Francisco a commanding 2-0 series lead, and they would go on to win the NLDS and eventually the World Series, their third in five years. – Joey Bohley
2012 American League Division Series Game 3
This game was a pitcher’s duel with Hiroki Kuroda on the mound for the Yankees against Miguel Gonzalez. The O’s struck first in the third, when Ryan Flaherty (who had just 6 home runs that season) hit a solo shot to put the O’s up one. The Yankees responded quickly to tie with Derek Jeter’s RBI triple to bring in Russell Martin. Fast forward to the fifth, when rookie Orioles standout Manny Machado clobbered the first pitch he saw to left-center field, capturing a 2-1 lead. That score would stay for the remainder of the starters’ outings. Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth: up one, the Orioles brought in breakout star closer, Jim Johnson, to finish off the game. Johnson was automatic that year, saving 51 games with a 2.94 ERA; good for a seventh place finish in Cy Young voting. For O’s fans, the game was as good as done, and they were just a game away from the ALCS. After an Ichiro lineout – yeah, he was a Yankee – Joe Girardi made the call for 40-year-old Raul Ibanez to pinch hit for the struggling Alex Rodriguez, who was hitting under .100 in the series. After a slider inside, Johnson left a 94-mph fastball right over the heart of the plate, and in a heartbeat the ball flew out and Ernie Johnson called, “WE ARE TIED!” Yankee Stadium went crazy, but the game was far from over. Johnson was able to retire the next five men he faced, with Brian Matusz then coming in and throwing a 1-2-3 inning in the 11th. Rafael Soriano and David Robertson held down the fort on the Yankees side, combining to go 3.1 IP, allowing two hits, no runs, and striking out three. The lefty Matusz remained in the game in the bottom of the 12th, with Ibanez leading off the inning. Matusz was a lefty killer all year, allowing a mere .175 to left handers on the season. This time was ~no~ very different. Ibanez “did it again” on the first pitch he saw from Matusz, sending the ball to the second deck, giving the Yankees a 3-2 win, and sending Yankee Stadium into a frenzy. The Yankees would go on to win the series in five games. – Adam Koplik
It’s always fun (or agonizing for some fanbases) to recall games like these, where everything is on the line and teams put their best effort towards winning at all costs. In the postseason every game carries immense value, making extra innings scenarios all the more intense and important. Many people have a list of postseason games that are most memorable to them, and the inevitable inclusion of these games is evidence of the contributions of extra innings to baseball’s appeal.
An extra innings rule change which places a runner on second base to start an inning over values highly skilled individual hitters who can drive in the runner. This devalues a lineup that can do damage from nearly any position, which is demanded in a system where each inning starts with a clean slate. The goal of the postseason is to crown a group of players who win best as a team; even if they have star players, as championship teams often do, the other players on the roster should also be very good. This system gives the advantage to which every team has the best individual hitter, eliminating the importance of a well rounded lineup.
Starting each inning with a runner on base also leaves things entirely up to chance based on which team can reach that best hitter first. For these reasons, this rule change would lessen what is demanded of a team to win a championship, devaluing the postseason structure as a whole.
While individual regular season games do not carry the same weight, they are just as important to the structure of the baseball season, and for this reason their rules should remain unaltered as well. An integral component of baseball has always been starting every inning fresh, and while the game should see some changes as it evolves, this is one rule that should stay away from the MLB. The unique frequency of indefinite games in baseball provided by extra innings contributes to the character of the game, and is something that must be preserved to demonstrate the teams that are truly the best in the league.
Are there any classic games that I missed? Let me know on Twitter @ruhdolph
Featured Photo: Ron Cogswell