by Daniel Gettinger
Most really long games (lets define a “really long game” as one that requires a second rendition of “Take me Out to the Ball Game”) are shaped by unlikely events. But yesterday’s 18 inning game was one of the oddest I have ever seen.
Josh Geer started the game, throwing 5 innings of pretty abysmal baseball. He walked 3, struck out 2, and surrendered 4 runs. Unfortunately, Geer’s terrible start cannot really be classified as “odd.” He’s Brian Lawrence without the movement, a combination bound to get rocked every handful of outings. Meanwhile, the Padres bats were unable to muster much of a threat. By end of the fifth inning, the Padres had about a 6% chance of winning the game. Time to bring in the mop-up guys.
Joe Thatcher was the first bullpen arm to enter the game. He wasted no time in allowing an additional run. The Padres failed to respond. Odds of winning after 6 innings: 1%.
In the seventh, Greg Burke threw a shaky, but scoreless inning, and Kouz hit a solo shot. The Diamondback’s lead was reduced to 5 runs, but the number of outs available to the Padres was also reduced. Odds of winning after 7: still about 1%.
The eighth inning is when things started to get fun. Cla Meredith threw a scoreless top half of the inning. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Junior hit a double. Then Edgar Gonzalez walked. Adrian came to the plate with two men on base. A home run makes things interesting again. Anything else, even an RBI single, or a 2-RBI double still leaves the Padres down by quite a few runs.
Knowing that the Padres have their best hitter at the plate, are down by 5 runs in the eighth, and already have two outs, Tony Gwynn Jr. makes a ridiculously dumb base running decision. He attempts to steal third. He gets thrown out. Threat over. Adrian is forced to trade in his bat for his glove. Odds of winning after eight: 0.5%.
In the ninth, Luis Perdomo retired the Diamondbacks in order. Then the Padres bats came to life. Adrian led off the bottom of the inning with a double, and Headley singled him in. Headley scored as a few more guys reached base. But a few guys also recorded outs.
With two outs and two guys on in the bottom of the ninth inning, David Eckstein strolled to the plate in a pinch-hit appearance. At this point, the team still had no more than a 4% chance of winning the game. Those odds changed with one swing. For the first time in 2009, David Eckstein hit a home run. The game was tied. Odds of winning: 53%. Gwynn Jr. grounded out to end the inning.
In extras, the two teams continued to battle, with each team’s bullpen refusing to surrender a run. Because Geer was only able to go five innings, the Padres had used all seven of their relievers by the end of the 15th inning. (Note: Maybe a 12-man pitching staff isn’t such a bad idea after all). Enter Chad Gaudin, Friday’s starter. He threw two innings, and struck out 3. But the Padres were unable to score either.
Unwilling to put Gaudin at further risk, Bud Black called on shortstop Josh Wilson to pitch in relief. Now, I have seen position players pitch, but never before had I seen a position player pitch in a tied ball game. Black really had no choice, but it’s still odd-especially for a team that carries 7 relievers.
Anyway, Wilson allowed Felipe Lopez and Ryan Roberts to reach base. But he also picked up two outs. He was one strike away from escaping the inning. But Mark Reynolds decided to deliver the 3-2 pitch into the seats. Odds of winning after the homerun: 3%.
In the bottom of the inning the Padres could not answer. Odds of winning: 0%.
Okay, the Padres lost. But the game was fun and interesting-even more so than most Padres wins. It started out like a typical Sunday afternoon blowout. Complete with idiotic base running. Then got exciting when David Eckstein decided to channel his inner Babe Ruth, and hit his first homerun of 2009. Then things just got weird. Friday’s starter made a cameo appearance in relief, and a position player was asked to pitch in a tied game. Had the game gone any longer, we might just have seen Henry Blanco attempt to pitch from the windup. Oh well. If Peavy is unable to go deep into the game, our chance may come today!
***Note: Win Probability Graph courtesy of Fangraphs