Extra special: More games going over nine frames
With a mid-August flurry and a pace continuing to trend toward the historic, extra-inning games are helping define the 2013 Major League season as one with a flair for the dramatic.
After six games went beyond the regulation nine innings Tuesday night, another five went into extras Wednesday to put the current tally at 191 for the season. The all-time record for a full season was set just two years ago, with 237 games going into extra innings in 2011, and that appears very much in jeopardy at this point.
The 2013 total is on a pace for approximately 259 extra-inning affairs this year, based on the percentage of games played thus far in the 2,430-game regular season. The pace was at 257 as of mid-June, so the possibility that 2013 will eclipse '11 remains real.
Also still on the rise are extra-long games, with 23 games of 14 innings or more played through Wednesday. There were 20 such games in 2012 -- another reason '13 is turning out to be extra special.
It's likely an era of tightened pitching and/or softened hitting -- depending on your point of view -- has been a contributing factor to this surge in overtime jobs, with fewer runs leading to more close games and more ties after nine. Perhaps competitive balance is a factor, too.
Regardless of the reason, the result of this trend of baseball going long more often than ever before offers what any baseball fan would want: more free baseball and more dramatic moments like walk-off homers.
You know, the type of moment Paul Goldschmidt keeps delivering for the D-backs. His latest came on Tuesday, a day in which six games were decided after extras, only one game fewer than the all-time daily mark of seven set in 1918 and matched in '98.
On Tuesday, Goldschmidt hit a game-tying homer in the ninth and then a game-winning shot in the 11th for what was Arizona's ninth walk-off victory of the season.
"Walk-offs are fun," Goldschmidt said after his fourth walk-off hit of the season, his third with a homer. "Guys keep battling. Even if you don't come back some games, you just see guys playing hard until the end, and hopefully we can get some momentum off that."
The D-backs apparently rode some of that momentum into extras the very next day, winning in 14 against the Orioles on Wednesday for their 10th walk-off win and third in three days, this time off the bat of veteran second baseman Aaron Hill.
After back-to-back wins in extras against Baltimore, Arizona is leading the Majors with 12 extra-inning victories, already a club record for a season.
"It's what we do," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
Still, while it's obvious that their 12-5 record in extra innings hasn't hurt the D-backs' efforts to keep the Dodgers in their sights in the National League West race, it's hard to peg excellence in extra innings to how well a team is doing overall.
Just look at the Tigers for an example there: They're 5-11 in extra-inning games, and yet they're 21 games over .500. While they've played fewer games in extras, the Rangers (2-7) and Cardinals (2-5) have had even less success than the Tigers, and they're all bona fide contenders.
The Cards' second extra-inning victory of the season might have held as much weight as the five they've lost after regulation, because this time it was a 14-inning win over the Pirates (9-6 in extras) on Tuesday that helped tighten up the NL Central race.
"It was one of those ones that you just felt you had to win somehow," manager Mike Matheny said.
Teams struggling for wins also generally have done so in extras, with the White Sox (7-13) and the Marlins (5-11) mirroring their overall play in extras, although the Astros moved to 4-3 with a victory over the A's on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Indians upped their record to 8-2 in extras with their victory in 12 innings over the Twins on Wednesday, and the Dodgers improved to 8-4 by beating the Mets in extra frames. So at least some contenders are using extras to get where they want to go.
The Dodgers' heroics on Wednesday began in the ninth -- a two-run homer by Andre Ethier to tie the game -- before Yasiel Puig delivered the game-winner in the 12th.
"It's on par for what's going on with this team," Ethier said. "It's not the same hero every night. It's someone different stepping up when their name is called."
And, across baseball, that kind of clutch performance to send games into extras and end them is on par for a season providing an extra burst of drama.