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January 18, 2013

Overthinking It

The Craziest Half-Inning in History

by Ben Lindbergh

In all the many media entities based on the Sherlock Holmes character created by Arthur Conan Doyle, there had never before 2012 (to my knowledge) been one in which Holmes applied his deductive skills to baseball. Nor would one expect there to be, since 19th-century London—traditionally Holmes’ home—was not a hotbed of baseball analysis. But since his character was created, Holmes has become an accomplished traveler in both space and time, making it possible to conduct two TV shows and a movie franchise based on his character concurrently. And, thanks to the newest of those shows, also making it possible to expose the world’s most famous fictional detective to baseball.

The CBS procedural Elementary, now approaching the end of its first season, reimagines Holmes as a tattooed modern-day detective, freshly released from rehab and relocated from London, who offers his consulting services to the NYPD. And it takes Elementary all of one episode to bring up baseball, as if to remind the viewer that this is Sherlock Holmes in New York, like you’ve never seen him before. The scene, which I’ve embedded below, comes at the end of the pilot and shows Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) winding down after a long day of deducing by watching the Mets.

You’ll probably enjoy the rest of this article more if you watch the scene (it’s a little less than two minutes long), but I’ve also transcribed it in case you’re at work, have bad bandwidth, or are allergic to moving images.

[Someone hits a solo home run]
Watson: Yes!
Holmes: Can we please go to dinner now?
Watson: It’s the bottom of the ninth. The Mets are within one, and no one is out. [Sherlock sighs.] Okay, don’t look at me like that. You said you were going to watch with me to make up for last night.
Holmes: That was before I got hungry.
Watson: Yeah, well, just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome, okay?
Holmes: Actually, Miss Watson, I’m quite familiar with the American pastime. The other addicts at Hemdale would often gather in the common room to watch the matches on the telly.
Watson: They’re not matches. They’re games.
Holmes: Truth be told, I find the science of the game quite fascinating. All of the statistical analysis, all of the strategy. So if you’ll allow me to save us both a little time… [He focuses on the screen] Popup to center, intentional walk, game-ending double play. Final score: Reds of Cincinnati 3, Metropolitans of New York 2.
Watson: Yeah, right. Nice try.
Holmes: I’ll meet you at the door.

Naturally, the rest of the inning plays out exactly as Holmes predicted, leaving Watson to heave an exasperated sigh and wonder what she was thinking when she decided to watch the Mets.

When I started watching the show (thanks to a provocative tweet by Sam Miller) and saw this scene, I initially planned to write something about how unlikely it was that Holmes would predict the outcomes of those plate appearances correctly by chance. If you think about it, Sherlock Holmes would probably be the world’s best baseball analyst, combining the keen mathematical mind of a sabermetrician with better judgment of makeup than the world’s most perceptive scout. He says he’s fascinated by baseball stats, so he might have used sabermetric principles to deduce how the rest of the inning would play out—maybe he’d studied the batted-ball profiles of each player, or the rate of double plays turned by the Reds defense, or Dusty Baker’s tendency to issue intentional walks. (Actually, Dusty doesn’t do that often.)

But then I took a closer look at the baseball being played on the screen, and I abandoned the initial idea, because what Holmes and Watson were watching was the CRAZIEST HALF-INNING EVER. It’s an inning that, much like Holmes himself, beggars belief and transcends time. Sherlock’s interior decoration

is the least-strange aspect of this scene.

The story of how the Reds recorded those final three outs on Elementary is a mystery that requires an investigator of Holmes’ skill to solve. But since I’m the only investigator available, I’m going to give it a shot. Let’s break this crazy baseball down.

The game is afoot.

***

Before any analysis, here’s what we know, or think we know, about the game Holmes and Watson are watching:

  • The Reds are playing the Mets
  • The Reds enter the bottom of the ninth up 3-1, so we know the Mets are at home
  • A Met leads off the bottom half of the inning with a homer
  • The next three plate appearances end in a fly ball out, an intentional walk, and a groundball double play
  • The Reds win 3-2

And before any further analysis, here’s the first sign that something is seriously wrong: the Mets haven’t lost 3-2 to Cincinnati at home since April 13, 2001. We know Elementary isn’t set in 2001 because (among other reasons) Holmes has a post-2001 fancy slim cell phone:

So okay, Elementary is playing fast and loose with the final score; maybe no one wanted to tie the events of the episode to a particular day. So when was the game they're watching? Here’s the first glimpse we get.

What we appear to have here is a genuine baseball game being played at Citi Field and broadcast on SNY, neither of which existed in 2001. To their credit, the producers of Elementary seem to have actually received express written consent from Major League Baseball to rebroadcast this game instead of staging a fake scene with players wearing blank hats and generic uniforms (although they did replace all traces of Gary Cohen with an anonymous announcer). The chyron at the top of the screen supports the scenario Watson describes.

Clue 1:

If real life were like CBS procedurals, I could order my computer to enhance that, and it would beep loudly and deliver a crystal-clear image of this pitcher right down to the double helix. My computer doesn’t do any of that, so all I can say is that this uniform number kind of looks like a 40. Nick Masset wore 40 for the Reds from 2008-11, and no Red wore 40 in 2012 (which probably would have been too late to make it into the Elementary pilot anyway), so it seems reasonable to assume that this is Nick Masset. Except that Masset has never allowed a home run to the Mets, and he looks like this when he releases the ball:

So, the pitcher in the first scene from Elementary: not Nick Masset. Let’s move on.

The batter (who looks like Carlos Beltran) hits the ball beyond the apple in center field. Here’s what we see:

Enhance!

Clue 2:

Here we have a blurry center fielder who isn’t the right race to be Drew Stubbs or Chris Heisey. It could be Dave Sappelt, but Sappelt wore 17 for the Reds, and this looks more like a 15. That means that this mystery center fielder, seen only from behind, could conceivably be Fred Lewis, who wore number 15 and occasionally outfielded for the Reds in 2011. Except! (“Except” is going to be a common refrain here.) Fred Lewis never played at Citi Field while with the Reds, and he also never played center.

So we have not-Nick Masset pitching to maybe-Beltran, who hits the ball over not-Fred Lewis’ head. What’s really happening here?

Beltran didn’t hit that many homers at home in 2011, and he hit even fewer that went out to dead center. I watched the ones that did, and we have a match:

Bombshell: that’s Michael Stutes pitching and John Mayberry in center. Stutes and Mayberry were Philadelphia Phillies. We’ve been had! Either Watson watched a whole game without realizing which team she was rooting against, or the Reds were a red herring.

So that’s the game we’re watching: July 15th, 2011. It’s not against the Reds, it’s against the Phillies, and the Mets lost 7-2, not 3-2, but aside from those minor inconsistencies surely there’s nothing else strange about this scene oh wait.

That’s the next time we see the screen, from behind the backs of Holmes and Watson. Enhance!

Clue 3:

There is now a runner on second base. It’s been only 26 seconds since Beltran’s homer touched down, and we know no extra time passed in the world of Elementary because the characters were conducting a continuous conversation. So in those 26 seconds, Beltran finished rounding the bases and accepting his high fives, the hitter on deck doubled, and the hitter in the hole came to the plate.

Oh, and there was a pitching change. There’s a lefty on the mound. Baseball goes by so quickly sometimes.

Now Sherlock stares intently at the screen, preparing to make his prediction. Here’s what he sees, and what we see:

This shot gives us a couple additional pieces of information, which we can see in…

Clue 4:

For one thing, there’s a runner on first, and a 2-2 count. So now we have even more action to account for in those lost 26 seconds. We also have a chyron operator who’s asleep at the keyboard, since the base graphic should look like this by now:

More importantly, though, we have a first baseman with a glove on his left hand, which means he throws with his right hand. Ryan Howard, who was playing first base in the Stutes-Beltran-Mayberry game, throws with his left hand. We’re now watching a different game.

So what game are we watching? The 2011 Phillies had only one right-handed-throwing, part-time first baseman, Mayberry, who appeared in 16 games at first all season and three at first at Citi Field. In only two of those was he at first with a lefty on the mound, and neither one had a situation with a southpaw pitching, men on first and second, and a lefty at the plate. Either this isn’t 2011, or it isn’t the Phillies.

I’m going to play a hunch here. We know Watson seems to think she’s watching the Reds. We know the team on the field is wearing red uniforms. And we know the Reds have a full-time first baseman who throws with his right hand. Could it be that the Mets’ opponent has switched to Cincinnati?

“We are coming now rather into the region of guesswork,” you might be thinking, much as Dr. Mortimer was in chapter four of The Hound of the Baskervilles. To that, I would respond as Holmes did:

Say, rather, into the region where we balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination, but we have always some material basis on which to start our speculation.

There’s no fit for the 2011 Reds, but if we go back to 2010—specifically July 6th, 2010—we find one: Matt Maloney on the mound, Joey Votto in the field, Jose Reyes on second, David Wright on first after an intentional walk, and Ike Davis at the plate. Here’s how it looks with the correct chyron from the real broadcast:

Yeah, that’s the one. So we’ve now traveled over a year into the past, and the Mets are playing a different opponent. This is already the most unusual inning ever played, and the Mets haven’t made an out yet.

There follow 12 more seconds of Sherlock staring and maybe starting to look a little concerned about the rift in time between him and his television—

—and then BOOM Bronson Arroyo.

The count is still 2-2. So in the 12 seconds when we weren’t watching the screen, Dusty Baker pulled his starter, Matt Maloney, with two strikes, and replaced him with another starter, Bronson Arroyo, losing the platoon advantage in the process. No wonder people make fun of Baker’s managing.

Arroyo didn’t pitch on July 6th, 2010, so clearly we’ve time-shifted again. The batter nearly takes Arroyo deep—Stubbs catches the ball with his back to the wall just to the right of the 408-foot sign—though Watson generously gives Holmes credit for predicting a “popup to center.” So who’s the batter? Here I had some help: every Holmes has his Watson and mine, in this case, was Will Woods, who watches the Mets like Lucy Liu and possesses the power to spot Mike Baxter from afar.

Baxter has had only two at-bats against Arroyo as a Met, and only one of them ended with a fly ball. He hit that fly on September 27th, 2011, almost 15 months after the last scene we saw. So we’ve placed the Arroyo-Baxter at-bat, but there’s still a problem here: Mike Baxter, according to Hit Tracker and his spray charts, has literally never hit a ball that far in the big leagues. Not only that, but the ball comes off his bat looking like it’s heading toward left-center, then ends up on the right side of straightaway. Here’s what his fly looked like on Elementary (left) and on the real SNY (right).

Arroyo throws the ball in both, Baxter hits the ball in both, and Stubbs catches the ball in both, but otherwise everything is different. In Elementary, Baxter swings, but the ball leaves someone else’s bat. Fortunately, the ball was hit to a part of the park where few fly balls die, so scouring spray charts for Mets vs. Reds games at Citi Field reveals who really hit it: David Wright, which makes more sense. The date: July 6th, 2010 again, with Maloney on the mound.

If you’re keeping track of the timeline, you know that we just went from a July 2010 overhead shot to a September 2011 swing back to a July 2010 batted ball. Questions for review: Why remove Wright’s swing? Why replace it with Baxter? Why did I watch this scene?

After hitting the fly ball that Baxter got credit for, Wright comes right back to the plate to be given an intentional walk by Maloney—the same intentional walk that put him on first in the overhead shot we saw before he came to the plate. (I just blew your mind.) Oddly, even though the rest of the chyron is incorrect, it does flash 74 miles per hour on the 0-0 pitch, which actually is how hard Maloney threw it.

Maloney has faced the Mets only once, so we know this is still the same day. We’ve now seen footage from both the first and sixth innings of the July 6th, 2010 game; it’s the nexus of Elementary’s insane baseball multiverse.

We have one more play to go, and it’s going to be our toughest test yet. For the game-ending double play, we don’t get a good view of the screen. All we get are closeups, which I’ve cropped into clues.

Clue 5:

We don’t get to see the batter above his knees, but the knees are enough to know he’s a left-handed hitter.

Clues 6 and 7:

Long hair, something that looks like 61: Arroyo is on the mound again. This is strange, because the only way it would have made any sort of sense to put the tying run (Wright) on with one out is if the Reds had gained the platoon advantage against a left-handed hitter, and now they’ve lost it by putting in a right-hander. Then again, Baker has already broken all the rules of baseball by putting both Maloney and Arroyo back in the game after removing them, so I don’t know why I’m critiquing his tactics.

Clue 8:

The shortstop is no. 2, and it’s not Zack Cozart, who wore that number in 2011. It’s Orlando Cabrera, who wore it in 2010.

Arroyo pitched only one game at Citi Field in 2010, and sure enough, Cabrera started it at short. We’re watching footage from July 7th, 2010, and we’re seeing the one double play the Reds turned that day, with Jesus Feliciano hitting and Josh Thole at first. Watson mourns the Mets’ loss, and then we see one final shot of the screen:

Fittingly, even though the final out has just been recorded, the game is still going on. It’s July 6th again, and there are still runners on base, and there’s still someone at the plate. Elementary baseball has no beginning and no end. All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

There’s just one more middle finger from the show to your sanity that we haven’t yet mentioned, which I’ll paste in from IMDb’s “Goofs” page for the episode:

According to that page, the episode’s only continuity error is that Sherlock’s scarf reverses itself in one scene. I would suggest that that page go back and watch the baseball scene more closely.

That’s it, we’re done. It took four games against two teams over a span of 448 days, but we’ve accounted for everything. And it’s not surprising that the Mets couldn’t score, because their opponent(s) used three pitchers (in five appearances) and 20 defenders to record the final three outs. The complete cast:

P: Michael Stutes, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Maloney
C: Carlos Ruiz, Corky Miller, Devin Mesoraco
1B: Ryan Howard, Joey Votto
2B: Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Orlando Cabrera, Paul Janish
3B: Michael Martinez, Scott Rolen, Todd Frazier
LF: Raul Ibanez, Jonny Gomes
CF: John Mayberry, Drew Stubbs
RF: Domonic Brown, Jay Bruce, Chris Heisey

***

Holmes could have predicted the final three outs of any actual Mets game, so why use four different games against two different teams in two different seasons to show four plays, none of which was especially unusual? Not only would sticking to an actual ending have been easier, it would have made it seem slightly more plausible that Holmes could predict the outcome of multiple plate appearances. If the minds behind Elementary—which, when it comes to things that aren’t baseball, is a pretty well-produced show—wanted to show a home game that the Mets lost by one run, there were 16 to choose from in 2011 alone. If they wanted to show a home game that the Mets lost by one run that included a Mets homer, deep fly to center, intentional walk and groundball double play, they could have used the Mets’ 7-6 loss to the Giants at Citi Field on May 3rd, 2011, in which all of those things happened. No need for Phillies! No need for multiple seasons! No need for misleading monster Mike Baxter!

So why all the extra splicing? That's show business, basically.

"Here's how it all went down," said Robert Doherty, Elementary's creator, writer, and executive producer. "The script came first. So the script and that scene as written—that's where we started from. And so the goal was first to seek out permission from Major League Baseball and from the Mets organization to use footage."

As long as that footage matched what was described on screen, the producers weren't picky about which game—or games—it came from, Doherty explained. "As far as why there are different plays from different games, it was really about finding footage that would match the dialogue, as opposed to changing the dialogue to work with the footage that we had."

The selection of possible plays was done on MLB's end, not on Elementary's. "I think they sent us maybe one or two options for each play that's described, but it wasn't like we could pore over a season's worth of games or even several seasons' worth of games," Doherty said. "They sent us a certain amount of footage and a few players, and we went with what we felt looked right."

The producers had the footage in hand before the dialogue was recorded, so there were no green screens involved: the baseball clips were actually playing on the TV that Holmes and Watson were watching as the scene was filmed in March or April of 2012. According to Doherty, though, the scene wasn't originally written with the Reds in mind.

"I think it was written as Mets versus Phillies—that's my recollection. For whatever reason, Major League Baseball and/or the Mets said that it would have to be a game against the Cincinnati Reds. I don't know why, but we were more than happy to oblige. Again, all we really wanted was to find footage that would match the dialogue."

Theoretically, the games selected could have come against any opponent; as Doherty said, "God knows there's enough Mets outs." So why the Reds? In an email exchange, I got some answers from Jeff Heckelman, MLB's Director of Business Public Relations, and Nick Trotta, the Senior Manager of Library Licensing at Major League Baseball Productions. MLBP houses the Major League Baseball Film & Video Archive, otherwise known as the archive we all wish we had access to. It fields footage licensing requests from and helps ensure the accuracy of a variety of sources, including TV shows and films like Moneyball and the upcoming 42.

"This was the pilot episode and a key scene that establishes the character of Sherlock Holmes, so we didn’t want to do anything that would force them to change the scene in any way," Trotta and Heckelman told me. "The producers asked us for any footage that could fit the scene, but in combing through the box scores and archives of recent Mets games, it became clear to us that there was no one game that perfectly matched this exact set of circumstances. So we took the time to piece together footage from multiple games in order to maintain the continuity of the scene."

"Even while splicing together footage from multiple games, we were careful to make sure the Mets were wearing the same uniforms and that all other game conditions (time of day, crowd, field, specific players, etc.) were the same," they went on. "Our only consideration was making sure the footage fit the scene, and the games against the Reds happened to best fit."

They just didn't quite fit perfectly enough to avoid the weirdest half-inning ever. The mystery may be solved, but we'll always have the play log:

Date

Inning

Score

Out

RoB

Count

Batter

Pitcher

Play Description

7/15/11

8

1-7

1

---

2-1

Beltran

Stutes

Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep CF)

Matt Maloney replaces Michael Stutes pitching and batting 9th

7/6/10

6

1-0

1

12-

0-0

Davis

Maloney

Maloney stands on mound

Bronson Arroyo replaces Matt Maloney pitching and batting 9th

9/27/11

2

1-2

1

---

3-2

Baxter

Arroyo

Baxter swings

Matt Maloney replaces Bronson Arroyo pitching (again) and batting 9th

7/6/10

1

0-0

2

---

2-0

Wright

Maloney

Fly ball: CF (Deep CF)

7/6/10

6

1-0

1

-2-

3-0

Wright

Maloney

Intentional Walk

Bronson Arroyo replaces Matt Maloney pitching (again) and batting 9th

7/7/10

7

1-3

0

1--

2-1

Feliciano

Arroyo

GIDP: 2B-SS-1B

Elementary.

Thanks to Andrew Koo for transcription assistance. Audio of the full interview with Robert Doherty is available here.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Television,  Reds,  Mets,  Sherlock Holmes,  Elementary

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