Back in 2012, I had a discussion with then Orioles catcher Matt Wieters about the club’s ridiculous string of extra-inning games.
That team played 18 regular-season contests that lasted beyond regulation, and the Orioles posted a ridiculous 16-2 record on their way to their first playoff appearance in 15 years.
The craziest part is that they were actually 0-2 in extra-inning games to begin the year – both losses to the Yankees – and then won 16 straight.
Throughout that streak, many argued it was unsustainable, that it was simply coincidence. And the Orioles just kept winning in extras. The streak finally came to an end in the playoffs, when they lost two straight, again to the Yankees.
That conversation with Wieters re-entered my mind when thinking about what the Orioles have done in additional frames so far this season.
They have played 56 games, and nine have gone beyond nine innings.
The Orioles are 8-1 in those contests after last night – the only loss coming to, you guessed it, the Yankees in 10 innings on April 28.
Tuesday night, the Orioles did it again, a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Camden Yards. The Orioles won on a single by Mark Trumbo (pictured above, celebrating) that scored Adam Jones, who had wisely tagged and reached second base on a fly ball during the previous play. The 10th-inning heroics were set up in the bottom of the ninth on a two-run homer by Jonathan Schoop – his second longball of the game.
The Orioles have now played in, and won, more extra-inning games than they did all of last year, when they were 6-2. The only team in the majors to have played more extra-inning games in 2017 is Pittsburgh, which is 5-5.
So, is it pure coincidence, or are there reasons why a team plays a lot of extra-inning games and why they win (or lose) a lot of them?
I asked that question to Wieters in 2012, and like most queries, Wieters contemplated it before answering.
His take was that it probably was a coincidence that they played beyond regulation so often. But those 2012 Orioles had a good bullpen and plenty of home run hitters. So, they were never truly out of a game, and that probably led to several ties.
The other part, though?
Wieters thought there was a reason – besides the Orioles’ penchant for power – that made them so successful in extra-innings: Once the streak started, and they began winning game after game in extras, their confidence built.
There was a certain calmness in the dugout, he said, during those games that came as much from familiarity as success. That year, the Orioles played in seven games 13 innings or longer, and won all of them, including one that went 17 in Boston and another that lasted 18 in Seattle.
As those games dragged on, Wieters said the club believed they were going to win because they had so often. And so maybe their minds were more focused or their bodies were more accustomed to playing longer. They also had that good bullpen which could outlast opponents, and a strong tactical manager in Buck Showalter, which is helpful as more maneuvering is needed as the innings pile up.
Wieters couldn’t pinpoint one specific reason for the 16-2 mark – he’s a catcher not an analyst. But he believed the 2012 Orioles were more prepared for extra innings than their counterparts.
And maybe the same thing is happening now. Maybe these Orioles are developing a psychological or physical advantage with all these early-season, extra-inning contests. Or maybe it’s just a freakish stat and it will even out as the season progresses.
One other thing to keep in mind – at least way back in your mind – is that in the three previous times the Orioles have made the postseason under Showalter, their extra-inning records have been 16-2 (2012), 14-6 (2014) and 6-2 (2016). In the years they haven’t reached the playoffs during a full season with Showalter, their extra-inning records were 8-8 (2011), 8-7 (2013) and 6-5 (2015).
Coincidence? Confidence? A little bit of both?