Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Extra Innings, Everyone is Short-Stacked

Like most sports fans, I spent much of the early and later part of last night flipping back and forth between the NBA games kicking off the 2015-16 regular season and the first game of the World Series between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals.

Eventually my attention was exclusively on baseball, thanks to the fact that Game 1 lasted a marathon 14 innings. That tied the record for the World Series with games only ever having previously lasted that many innings twice before (in 1916 and 2005).

The game started with an ultra rare inside-the-park home run in the first inning, and crazily the 14-inning game back in 1916 also had a 1st-inning inside-the-parker, one of several examples of weirdness from the game. It finally ended around 1:30 a.m. my time, having lasted just over five hours.

Near the end, I tweeted that if the game went much longer both teams would be in “shove-or-fold” mode. Was a joking reference to increasing blinds at the end of a poker tournament, of course, but afterwards I realized that in a way the amount of “gamble” in the game truly was increasing the longer it went on, thereby also increasing the effect luck could potentially have on the outcome.

As a baseball game proceeds through multiple extra innings, options for managers lessen as fewer and fewer players are available for pitching or pinch-hitting. The fact that this was the first game of a best-of-seven series also meant neither team necessarily wanted to exhaust their entire pitching staffs if they could help it, although the Mets did end up using six pitchers and the Royals seven.

The same goes for other sports in which the games are close as the clock winds down, in particular when they enter into overtime, sudden death, penalty shots/kicks, and the like.

Poker players complain sometimes about tournament structures that force players to gamble more at the final table, increasing the chances that luck will have more to do with the outcome than skill. The lament goes that it is unfortunate for the game to be reduced to that “shove-or-fold” decision at a time when the stakes (the payouts) are literally highest.

But that’s how most other sports play out, too, if you think about it. If the game is close, each play or decision takes on added importance disproportionate to the many other decisions made prior to the endgame, thereby necessarily increasing the potential significance of a bad bounce, a judgment call, or any other possibly outcome-determining event.

In extra innings or during the final minutes of a close game, everyone really is short-stacked, relatively speaking.

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