#Hot Corner

The extra-innings curse of the Pirates

Back in June, I wrote about not trusting the Pirates. But in August, I came around and figured their 19-inning win was a sign of good things to come. This is because I'm not good at my job. It's also because I wanted to believe and get caught up in an underdog story.

I wasn't alone in thinking the 19-inning game meant things were looking up for the Pirates. Shane Tourtellote of Hardball Times wrote something similar -- really, it was hard to ignore the parallels. Surprising team loses in 19 innings, season goes to heck. Surprising team wins in 19 innings … it's like one of the first five questions of the Wonderlic test. It's so obvious, you're supposed to get it right. If one of the games were an 18- or 20-inning loss, it wouldn't have been nearly as amazing.

The Pirates' expected momentum wasn't as momentous as expected. Since the 19-inning win, they're 9-23. But instead of dismissing the second consecutive, post-marathon tailspin as mere coincidence, Tourtellote looked into how teams played after exceptionally long contests. He digs into the history of extended games, and comes up with a surprising conclusion:

In the first week after a marathon, winners seem to get a little bump, while losers suffer badly. After that, both sides tend to regress toward the mean, though it's a mean of reduced performance for any team that plays a super-long game.

Now, the Pirates lost for a lot of reasons. Bad baseball was involved, apparently. But it's worth noting, at least, that every team is likely to play worse after a marathon game, win or lose. And the Pirates have run into that particular buzz saw for the second straight season. It's not why James McDonald wore down, but it probably didn't help the rest of the team.

Just when you think things are finally going the Pirates' way, wait just a little bit longer. The universe has ways of correcting that sort of phenomenon.

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