Just another, ho-hum, gargantuan ninth-inning rally…
On Thursday, the Detroit Tigers put up an eight-spot in the ninth for the first time in 94 years, stunning the Tampa Bay Rays in a 10-7 win. The victory was the Tigers’ seventh in the last 10 games. It also happened to be the Rays’ 13th loss in their last 15 contests, and a rather cruel punctuation mark at that. ESPN Stats and Research tells us that prior to yesterday, teams trailing by five or more runs were 3-2,779 the last five years.
This seems like something that might happen about once per season, but it’s becoming a theme here in 2016. Frantic finishes with massive ninth-inning uprisings are almost a norm, it seems. Especially when you consider it wasn’t even the first time of the week.
A night earlier, the New York Yankees stunned the white-hot Texas Rangers, erasing a 7-3 deficit in their final at-bat with a six-run frame. Brian McCann, who had homered an inning earlier, tied the score with a three-run bomb two batters before Didi Gregorius went yard to complete the 9-7 win.
Sadly for Texas, it was deja vu all over again. Five days earlier, they let a 7-4 lead in the ninth slip away despite being a strike away from victory (sound familiar, Rangers fans?) against the Boston Red Sox. A double, homer, walk, single, and wild pitch turned the tides into an 8-7 Sox win in Arlington.
Of course, even with this recent flurry of ninth-inning magic, none of these games seemingly compared to May 28 at Kauffman Stadium. That afternoon, the Chicago White Sox appeared to be well on their way to a much-needed win over the Kansas City Royals. Instead, a 7-1 advantage turned into an absolute nightmare. Sox manager Robin Ventura brought in his closer, David Robertson, just to be safe. Instead, Robertson was charged with six earned runs while recording just one out. The Royals tallied seven runs and pulled out a shocking, 8-7 win.
At some point, we may see one of these comebacks trump the best of all time. This year’s Mariners did their best imitation of what happened against the historic 2001 squad back on June 2, albeit well before the ninth inning. Down 12-2 to the Padres in San Diego, the M’s scored five in the sixth and nine more in the seventh and ultimately won, 16-13. That closely resembled a Sunday night game on August 5, 2001, when the Mariners, who finished 116-46 that year, led 14-2 after six innings in Cleveland.
But the Indians scored three in the seventh, four in the eighth, then tied the game with five in the ninth. Jolbert Cabrera capped the remarkable comeback with a walk-off single in the 11th, and the Tribe had an unthinkable, 15-14 win.
So what does all this mean? For one, it is a message to fans and players alike that a game is never really over until it’s over. Also, it is another lesson that the last three outs are far and away the hardest in baseball to get. As much as these comebacks excite an offense, they are exponentially more devastating for the pitcher who choked that lead away. Losses like that can damage a pitcher’s psyche in the long run.
Even if we don’t see any more of these in 2016, we’ve already have a season’s worth this week.