Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years, if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains the rare occurrences that make tie baseball games possible.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half, yet it still provides long-time spectators events that they have never seen before – or will again. One of those rare events is a game ending with a tie score – a result as unsatisfying and disturbing as kissing your sister.
When the 2002 All-Star Game ended after 11 innings in a flat-footed tie, as neither of the managers – Joe Torre or Bob Melvin – were willing to send his final pitcher out for a third inning of work, it sent a shockwave through the game of baseball. Bud Selig, whose Milwaukee Brewers played host to this historic event, quickly made changes to the All-Star Game, increasing roster sizes and allowing managers to re-insert one position player who had earlier been removed in addition to making the game “count” by giving the winning league home field advantage in the World Series. It is now less likely that a game will end without a winner or a loser. Of course, with this change, we may never see a knuckleballer like Steven Wright actually participate in an All-Star game again, as someone has to man the bullpen in case of a 15-inning game.
It also did not change the rules during the regular season. On September 29, 2016, the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates battled through five innings at PNC Park before rain became the winner, as the game ended in a one-all tie.
The Major League Rule Book defines a tie game in Rule 7.02(b)(4)(B):
Any suspended game that has progressed far enough to become a regulation game, but which has not been completed prior to the last scheduled game between the two teams during the championship season shall become a called game, as follows:
(B) If the score is tied, the game shall be declared a “tie game” (unless the game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to tie the game, and the home team
has not retied the game, in which case the score upon the completion of the last full inning shall stand for purposes of this Rule 7.02(b)(4))
Because this encounter between the Cubs and Pirates was the last of the season between the two teams, the game was technically suspended first. As the game had gone into the sixth inning, past the five innings necessary to make it a regulation game, it was then declared a tie. As Chicago had already claimed the National League East, and Pittsburgh had been eliminated from playoff contention, there was no pressing need to play the game to a decision. However, the rulebook also accounts for the case where this game HAD to be played to a decision after all in Rule 7.02(b)(5):
Any postponed game, suspended game (that has not progressed far enough to become a regulation game), or tie game that has not been rescheduled and completed prior to the last scheduled game between the two teams during the championship season must be played (or continued, in the case of a suspended or tie game) to a completed regulation game, if the League President determines that not playing such game might affect post-season play, including eligibility for the post-season and/or home-field advantage for any post-season game.
While ties are largely an anachronism in the modern age of baseball, this was not always the case. Before stadiums were equipped with artificial illumination, games often ended in ties, even in the World Series (for example, Game 2 of the 1922 World Series). But the tie game at PNC Park was the first one in over a decade. And, given the realities of playoff positioning, it may be another decade until we see another example.