The Orioles extended their remarkable run of consecutive extra-inning victories to 15 this week with wins in 18 and 11 innings against Seattle. Overall, the O’s are 15-2 in extra-inning games in 2012. Explanations for the team’s success in extra frames are varied; however, the historical marker you’ll hear referenced most often is that the current 15-game extra-inning streak is the longest such effort since 1949, when the Cleveland Indians won 17 straight extra-inning games. History tends to provide a nice dose of perspective.
When it comes to Orioles history specifically, the early 1960s provide an interesting comparison point to 2012 in terms of extra-inning games. Unlike this season, Baltimore was not a good extra-inning team in the early ’60s. The O’s posted a combined 10-24 extra-inning record in 1962 and 1963, the worst such mark in the majors during that two-year stretch. It’s not that the teams were altogether bad. The 1962 Orioles finished 77-85 while the 1963 team went 86-76. Nevertheless, both teams struggled in extra innings going 6-13 and 4-11, respectively.
The Orioles’ late-innings struggles did not go unnoticed by the national press. Sports Illustrated’s baseball issue in April 1964 previewed the O’s upcoming season by focusing on the team’s struggles generally and its extra-inning futility specifically.
A fast start in 1963 put the O’s in first place by the end of May with a record of 30-18. An 11-20 record in June hampered that early run and the team ended up in fourth place, more than 18 games behind the first-place Yankees. SI attributed the team’s summertime dip to a lack of “hitting and hustling, as well as discipline.” Meanwhile, the magazine summarized the O’s extra-inning troubles over the course of the previous two seasons in terms of their struggles at the plate. “Hitting is the Orioles’ major problem,” the article stated, “and it is reflected in their inability to win extra-inning games.”
New O’s manager Hank Bauer seemingly provided some remedies for the discipline problems on a team that was described as “not an easy group of heroes to control.” Bauer’s travel policies, as outlined in the article, included a midnight curfew, a dress code during road trips and no drinking at the hotel bar. “That privilege belongs to the manager,” Bauer said.
That still left the matter of hitting the baseball. The O’s decision to trade Jim Gentile for the Athletics’ Norm Siebern was described in SI as an effort to cut down on strikeouts and double play balls while increasing walks. Meanwhile, Brooks Robinson, Jerry Adair and Jackie Brandt were singled out for their lack of production at the plate.
It’s worth noting that Brooksie’s .251 average in 1963 would currently rank fifth in the 2012 Orioles lineup, just behind Chris Davis (.258) and ahead of Matt Wieters (.248). Also, the 1963 Orioles finished with a .249 team batting average, the seventh-best in the league. That’s slightly better than the 2012 team’s current .247 average, which is ninth-best in the league.
Overall, SI’s explanations appear too simplistic in retrospect, especially when compared to what’s happening in 2012. Nevertheless, the 1964 Orioles did win a then-franchise-best 97 games. The team posted a winning record of 7-6 in extra innings. Robinson had a career year at the plate for average (.317), home runs (28), RBI (118), on-base percentage (.368), slugging percentage (.521) and OPS (.889). And whereas Gentile had 76 walks, 101 strikeouts and hit into 14 double plays in 1963, Siebern had 106 walks, struck out 87 times and hit into only five double plays. Still, the team batting average barely changed at .248. Hitting may have been part of the equation, but it wasn’t nearly the entire formula as was suggested at the outset of the season.
Try was we might to identify it, there is no simple answer when it comes to explaining a team’s performance in extra innings. We know when it’s good, we know when it’s bad and we know the difference it can make to a team’s overall fortunes.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.