Extra, extra! Extended games on record pace

Extra, extra! Extended games on record pace

Extra, extra! Extended games on record pace
It's "free baseball," as Michael Kay, a play-by-play announcer on Yankees television broadcasts, calls it when a game goes into extra innings.

And as the adage goes, more is better. Isn't it?

This has already been an extra-special season. Extra-inning games are unfolding at a record pace -- 114 through Monday, representing 11.6 percent of all games played.

At that rate, the season would produce 281 extra-inning games, dwarfing the current record of 210, reached in four different seasons.

The reasons for all these bonus panels on the scoreboard can be disputed -- less offense, more quality relievers -- but the extra stress placed on managers cannot.

Extra Special
Club extra-innings standings per league
TOR 6-2 LAD 5-0
TB 4-2 SF 7-3
DET 2-1 WAS 6-4
BOS 3-2 ATL 8-6
MIN 5-4 CHC 3-2
KC 7-6 PIT 3-2
CLE 3-3 ARI 4-3
SEA 3-3 CIN 4-3
NYY 3-4 STL 5-4
CWS 4-6 MIL 3-3
OAK 5-8 SD 4-6
BAL 3-5 NYM 2-3
LAA 4-9 PHI 2-4
TEX 1-3 HOU 1-2
FLA 4-7
COL 0-4

Ask Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, whose club is losing the American League West race in the 10th and beyond. The Angels have played the most extra-inning games in the AL and merely reversing their 4-9 record in them would hoist them over the Rangers for the division lead with a 37-31 record, rather than being left 4 1/2 lengths behind.

Or Edwin Rodriguez. The Marlins would be a lot better off if Major League Baseball would just adopt the NHL system of awarding a half-win for regulation ties, which would lessen the sting of their seven extra-inning losses.

"It's challenging for a manager, because it's depressing to lose extra-inning games," said Joe Torre, who faced that challenge for 29 years prior to becoming MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations.

A trio of East clubs have the top extra-inning records in the AL. Combined, the Rays (4-2), Blue Jays (6-2) and Red Sox (3-2) are 13-5. In an odd twist, the AL's bottom three are all from the West: the Rangers (1-3), the A's (5-8) and the Angels are a cumulative 10-20.

Not everything has gone right for the Dodgers or rookie manager Don Mattingly, but at 5-0, they are the Majors' lone perfect extra-inning team, while the Rockies (0-4) are the only winless club. Yet another NL West team, the Giants, matches the Royals' seven extra-inning wins.

The biggest extra-inning winners, however, are the Braves (8-6), who have also played the most overtime games -- one more than the Royals and A's.

Is there an explanation for the trend, other than the standard "these things go in cycles" disclaimer? Not with any reliability.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy, through the prism of his great-pitch, little-hit team, attributes it to low scoring and solid bullpens. San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer, who has essentially the same perspective, agrees that "lack of offense keeps games closer. Almost all of our extra-inning games have been low-scoring."

Yet other teams have played extras with scores like 12-7 and 12-9, and many overtimes have been the result of bullpen meltdowns.

In early April, the Royals played extra innings four times in a seven-game stretch, mainly because Joakim Soria, who hadn't allowed a run in his final 24 appearances of 2010, suddenly couldn't close out games.

"Baseball is crazy; baseball is like that," Soria said.

Going L-0-0-0-n-g
The longest games, in innings, this season:
Innings Date Final
19 May 25 PHI 5, CIN 4
15 May 18 NYY 4 @ BAL 1
14 April 8 PIT 4, COL 3
April 9 LAA 6, TOR 5
May 1 NYM 2, PHI 1
May 20 MIL 7, COL 6
May 27 KC 12 @ TEX 7
May 28 TOR 9, CWS 8
June 4 BOS 9, OAK 8

Likewise, the White Sox endured five extra-inning games from April 5-12, as manager Ozzie Guillen desperately went from Chris Sale to Matt Thornton looking for someone to shut the door. That stretch was particularly crippling for Chicago; the last of those five extra-inning games was the start of a seven-game losing streak, which spiraled the White Sox under .500, and they've yet to resurface.

At 8.4 runs per game, scoring is at a 20-year low. That's fact. The link between low scoring and extra-inning games? Not so: In 1968, the peak year of pitching domination, there were a total of 160 extra-inning games in the Majors.

Analysis of the past 20 seasons merely serves to further blur the relationship between scoring trends and extra-inning games. The four seasons in which scoring has been the lowest (1991, 1992, 2010, 2011) yielded four of the five highest incidences of extra-inning games. But No. 3 on the list is 1996, when 9.62 percent of games went extra innings while games were averaging 10.1 runs -- the third highest in the two-decade span.

So it is difficult to draw any conclusions. Save for one: Don't leave early to try to beat the traffic; on any day or night, there might be "free baseball."

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.