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August 26, 2013

Baseball Therapy

Baseball: Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before

by Russell A. Carleton


They say that if you stick around long enough at a baseball game, you'll see something that you've never seen before. Something odd and surprising like a double play where the catcher records both outs at third base or an invisible home run or Teddy Roosevelt winning the President's race. While I was thinking about that particular baseball axiom, another question popped into my head. If I stick around long enough at a baseball game, would I see something that had happened before?

The phrase "something that has happened before" in the context of baseball might seem a little strange. After all, there will be plenty of strikeouts and walks and singles and routine grounders to third each night. Each game is composed of the same small suite of basic events that, when added together, produce a final score. But I got to wondering the following: Have there ever been two games that have unfolded in exactly the same manner?

Here it becomes an issue of resolution. There have been plenty of 5-4 games in baseball history, so if our only notation of a baseball game is the final score, then we run into the problem of not having very many unique events. Since 1901 (through 2012), the most common final score of a game has been 3 to 2 (10,507 times), followed by 4 to 3 for the home team (10,106 times).

Still, unique final scores pop up every now and then. In 2010, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh played the first 20-0 game in MLB history. As you might imagine, all of the unique scores involve at least one team putting up at least 18 runs (an 18-13 game between the Cardinals and Phillies in 1932 holds the record for the lowest number of runs by a winning team in a unique game.) There have been 41 games in MLB since 1901 whose final score has never been duplicated. Baseball trivia junkies love that kind of stuff.

Let's see what happens when we drill down one more level to see whether we can find a game where the line score (the score by innings, both home and visitor) has never happened again. For some reference, the most common line score since 1901 has actually been a 1-0 game with the home team scoring the lone run in the bottom of the ninth (274 times), followed by a 1-0 game in which the home team’s run scores in the first inning (248 times). What may surprise you is that line scores are actually more likely to be unique than duplicative. There are a lot of line scores that have happened exactly once in modern baseball history.

It's not even just exotic extra extra inning #weirdbaseball games or games that finish 30-3 (S - Wes Littleton, 1) that have a unique 18-digit code. On the last day of the 2012 season (October 3rd), nine of the games played featured line scores that had never been seen before, including a seemingly innocuous 5-1 victory by the home-team Dodgers over the visiting Giants. The Giants scored their only run in the fourth inning, while the Dodgers tallied one in the fifth, 1 in the sixth, and put it away with three in the eighth. That combination had never happened before. Ever. Seriously.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (08/26)
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Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Ryan... (08/23)
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