Celebrating 150 years of extra-inning baseball

Looking back at the best performances to happen after the ninth

June 14th, 2020

Today marks a baseball sesquicentennial of which you likely weren’t aware.

It was 150 years ago today, on June 14, 1870, when the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, played their first extra-innings contest. Cincinnati was riding high on a 91-game winning streak when it met the Atlantics of Brooklyn for a much-anticipated matchup in New York, and when the teams played to a 5-5 tie after nine innings, the two sides decided to forego the option of a draw and keep playing.

The Atlantics swept away a two-run deficit to win it in the bottom of the 11th and, much like the famous 1958 NFL championship game that popularized overtime in football, the contest displayed the thrill of “free baseball” and changed the game for the better. Indeed, it’s extremely hard to go through history without acknowledging extra-inning games that helped to define the sport.

So, this 150th anniversary is a great excuse to hand out some extra-inning superlatives, with research assistance from the Elias Sports Bureau. Keep in mind these are subjective picks (that’s the nature of superlatives!), so if you disagree with any of them, go ahead and shout at the author.

The “most important” extra-inning game (postseason): Cubs 8, Indians 7, 2016 World Series Game 7
There are so many good contenders for this, but after more than a century of October meltdowns, goat-related curses, and ‘wait ‘til next year’s, what could be more important than finally shedding that lovable-loser label -- especially in a series in which you trailed 3-1, in a winner-take-all game you had to win on the road and after your closer gave up a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning to send it to extras? This win completely changed the identity of the Cubs franchise.

Honorable mentions: 1991 World Series Game 7, 2004 American League Championship Series Game 4, 2003 ALCS Game 7, 1980 National League Championship Series Game 5, 1986 NLCS Game 6, 1986 World Series Game 6, 1995 AL Division Series Game 5 (Yankees vs. Mariners), 2011 World Series Game 6

The “most important” game (regular season): Rocktober begins, 2007 NL Wild Card tiebreaker
This game only tops the Rays’ just-as-dramatic Game 162 win in 2011 because it kickstarted the Rockies’ white-hot run to their first World Series (the ‘11 Rays fell in the ALDS). Colorado went 13-1 down the stretch just to force a tiebreaker game against the Padres, and it erased an early 5-2 deficit before needing another comeback in the 13th inning. Debate whether Matt Holliday touched home plate if you want, but this was a win Rockies fans will never forget.

Honorable mentions: Rays’ Game 162 comeback, The “Ryne Sandberg Game” (Cardinals vs. Cubs, June 23, 1984), White Sox-Brewers’ 1984 25-inning marathon

The longest MLB game: 26 innings (Brooklyn Robins 1, Boston Braves 1), May 1, 1920
This contest might have gone on forever if it were played under lights; it was called due to darkness after only three hours and 50 minutes. The Robins (predecessors to the Dodgers) scored their run in the fifth, answered back by Boston in the sixth. Then: gooseggs, for 20 innings in a row.

The most unbelievable part is that the game required only two pitchers -- Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore and Boston’s Joe Oeschger took the ball for their respective clubs, and they never gave it up.

The longest postseason game: 18 innings (three-way tie)
The answer to "how many innings can two teams go with everything on the line?" appears to be 18.

The Astros and Braves were the first pair to go that deep in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS, when the Astros erased a 6-1 deficit entering the eighth and Chris Burke became a Houston hero by homering 10 frames later. Braves starter Tim Hudson was also the Giants' starter in Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS, when San Francisco tied it in the top of the 10th and then Brandon Belt hit a game-winning homer in the 18th. And the longest postseason game of all in terms of time (seven hours, 20 minutes) is fresh in the memory from Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, when Max Muncy homered to deliver the Dodgers their only win of that year's Fall Classic.

The highest-scoring extra-inning game: Phillies 23, Cubs 22, May 17, 1979
There's nothing like a matinee game at Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out, and there's maybe never been a game like this. Philadelphia and Chicago combined to go 50-for-109 at the plate and crushed 11 homers, including three for Cubs slugger Dave Kingman, two for Phillies superstar Mike Schmidt and a grand slam for Chicago’s Bill Buckner in a seven-RBI effort. Schmidt broke a 22-22 tie with a solo homer off fellow Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter in the top of the 10th.

“Ballplayers often will say that you never can get enough runs to win in this park,” Schmidt said postgame, “but they always say it sarcastically. After today, they can forget the sarcasm.”

The longest scoreless game: Astros 1, Mets 0 (24 innings), April 15, 1968
Tom Seaver permitted just two baserunners across 10 shutout innings, but Astros starter Don Wilson also went nine scoreless. The Mets trotted out seven relievers after Seaver, and the Astros four after Wilson, and yet neither club could scrape together one measly run for 23 innings in a row.

It took a single, a balk, two intentional walks and a ball that went through Mets shortstop Al Weis’ legs in the bottom of the 24th to finally put a cleat on home plate for Houston -- six hours and six minutes after Wilson’s first pitch.

The biggest team outburst in extras: Rangers’ 12-run 15th inning (vs. A’s), July 3, 1983
“Goofy” was the word Rangers manager Doug Rader used to describe this game, and he wasn’t necessarily wrong. “I don’t see how it could get any worse,” said his counterpart, A’s manager Steve Boros.

After the clubs combined for a modest eight runs in 14 innings, Texas sent 16 men to the plate, racked up eight hits and four walks and put up a 12-spot on Oakland. It’s the most runs any team has scored in an extra inning, and what’s more, it improved the Rangers to a perfect 7-0 against the A’s that season.

The biggest individual eruption in extras: John Mayberry Jr. (PHI), June 4, 2013
Mayberry finished his seven-year career with 56 home runs, and two of the most thrilling came on this night at Citizens Bank Park. He came off the bench in the seventh and tied the game with a dinger off Steve Cishek in the bottom of the 10th, and then knocked his first career grand slam the next inning to walk it off for Philly. Per Elias, Mayberry joined former Red Sox right fielder Clyde Vollmer (July 28, 1951) as the second player to rack up five RBIs after the ninth inning of a ballgame.

Best overall hitting performance: Art Shamsky (CIN), Aug. 12, 1966
Shamsky didn’t enter this game until the top of the eighth, but in the bottom half, he knocked a two-run homer to put Cincinnati up, 8-7, over the Pirates. Then, with his Reds trailing by one in the bottom of the 10th, Shamsky knocked another dinger to tie it up.

But Shamsky still wasn’t done. After Pittsburgh scored another pair in the top of the 11th, a two-run dinger by (who else) Shamsky sent it to the 12th. Three at-bats for Shamsky, three home runs -- all of them in the eighth inning or later, and all of them either put the Reds ahead or kept them alive. Cincinnati lost this game, 14-11, but the Reds were only two batters away from bringing Shamsky up again in the 13th -- and we know what he would have done if given the chance.

Honorable mentions: Mike Schmidt (4 HRs, 8 RBIs, April 17, 1976), Brandon Crawford (7-for-8, Aug. 8, 2016), Johnny Burnett (MLB record nine hits across 18 innings, July 10, 1932), César Gutiérrez (7-for-7, June 21, 1970)

Best overall pitching performance: Harvey Haddix, PIT (May 26, 1959)
Haddix might have pitched the greatest game in history, and he didn’t even get a victory.

Haddix strung together 12 perfect innings against a Braves lineup that featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews at the peak of their powers. The Braves were even stealing Haddix’s signs, but they still couldn’t muster anything. Unfortunately for Haddix, Milwaukee starter Lew Burdette had his own shutout going through 12, forcing Haddix to keep being perfect. It all came to an end when Pirates third baseman Don Hoak booted a Felix Mantilla grounder, ending the perfecto, followed by a bunt from Mathews, an intentional walk to Aaron and a bizarre would-be walk-off homer by Joe Adcock that instead resulted in a single run. Still, one run was enough -- somehow -- to beat Haddix.

Honorable mentions: Jim Maloney (no-hitter through 10 innings, 18 strikeouts, June 14, 1965), Tom Cheney (21 strikeouts across 16 innings, Sept. 12, 1962)

Best pitchers’ duel: Juan Marichal (16 scoreless innings) vs. Warren Spahn (15 1/3 scoreless) on July 2, 1963
In a showdown that lasted more than four hours, the 42-year-old Spahn and 25-year-old Marichal traded zero after zero. In the fourth, Willie Mays threw out a runner at home plate. In the ninth, Willie McCovey crushed a towering fly down the right-field line that he continued to claim was a fair ball 50 years later. Giants manager Alvin Dark tried twice to take out Marichal with no success, and after Marichal retired the side in the 16th, he asked Mays to get him a homer in the bottom half.

“Don’t worry,” said Willie, and that’s just what he did, knocking the first pitch Spahn threw him into the left-field seats for a walk-off tater.

“When I saw the ball leave that park,” Marichal later said, “I was the happiest guy on earth.”

Honorable mentions: Fred Toney and Hippo Vaughn’s double no-hitter through nine innings on May 2, 1917, Cadore and Oeschger’s 26-inning battle (see above)

The best “refuse to lose” performance: Phillies 7, Marlins 6, July 24, 1998
Hours after they had ground out a 12-inning win in the first leg of a doubleheader, the Phillies simply wouldn’t accept a split. Mark Lewis clubbed a two-out, two-run dinger in the ninth to send it to extras. Then, after Florida’s Craig Counsell homered in the top of the 10th, the Phillies tied it on a throwing error by shortstop Dave Berg. Cliff Floyd’s RBI single put the Marlins up again in the 11th, only to see Kevin Sefcik tie it with a bases-loaded walk.

Surely, Todd Zeile’s RBI single the next inning would end it, right? Wrong. With the clock well past midnight, Ruben Amaro’s homer tied it -- again -- and then Rico Brogna ended it four batters later with a walk-off single. The Phillies matched a Major League record by erasing three separate deficits after the ninth inning, earning them their second 12-inning win of the night.

The team that loved extra innings the most: 1943 Red Sox
On paper, the Red Sox played 154 games in 1943, same as every other team, but the bodies on that roster likely disagreed with that figure. Boston found itself locked in 31 different extra-inning games that year, finishing with 15 wins, 14 losses and two ties in those contests. Tallying up all their overtime frames past the ninth, those ‘43 Sox wound up playing the equivalent of nine extra games that year.

Career leaders

Walk-off RBIs (since 1920): Andre Dawson, 17
Dawson's record total doesn't even include another memorable game on May 22, 1990, when he drew a record five intentional walks from Reds manager Lou Piniella in a 2-1, 16-inning win for the Cubs.

Hits (since 1961): Pete Rose, 83
Who else but the all-time hit king? Rose victimized the Cardinals the most, tallying 12 extra-inning hits against the Reds’ longtime rival.

Home runs: Willie Mays, 22
Not only is Mays the all-time leader, but his homer that broke up Spahn’s gem (as referenced above) made him the only player to knock at least one dinger in every inning from one to 16 over the course of his career.

Grand slams: Carlos Lee, 3
Lee’s first overtime slam was extra satisfying as it came for the White Sox against the crosstown rival Cubs on June 8, 2001. His next two as an Astro victimized the same team, the Rockies, almost exactly three years apart in ‘07 and ‘10.

Strikeouts (since 1961): Goose Gossage and Trevor Hoffman, 166
Gossage and Hoffman both pitched for the Padres, of course, though there’s a wide discrepancy in how many of these K’s they racked up for San Diego. Gossage recorded 37 of his overtime punchouts as a Friar, while Hoffman recorded all but one of his with the club.

Saves: Joe Nathan, 29
Nathan only blew two saves after coming in for an opportunity in extra innings, each of them occurring in his final All-Star season with the Rangers in 2013.