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Cubs 1, Pirates 1: Fit To Be Tied

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Turns out there are ties in baseball.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Following a one-hour, 23-minute delay in Pittsburgh Thursday night, when it was clear the rain wasn’t going to stop for several more hours, the Cubs/Pirates game was officially suspended, tied 1-1 with one out in the top of the sixth inning, and declared a tie under current suspended-game rules.

This gives me the chance to tell you quite a bit about one of my favorite obscure parts of baseball history, tie games.

There used to be quite a few tie games in baseball, almost every year. Baseball-reference’s database, which goes back to 1913, lists 70 tie games for the Cubs, the last one 23 years ago. The Cubs bb-ref team page shows 86 others prior to 1913. The reason’s pretty obvious, back in the day before the introduction of ballpark lights — if you played to a tie and it got dark, the game was just stopped, declared a tie and was eventually replayed from the beginning.

By the 1960s, when every park but Wrigley Field had lights, this became problematic. Eventually a suspended-game rule was created for Wrigley alone, allowing games that would otherwise have been called for darkness to be suspended and completed later. Two years ago, when there was a game suspended at Wrigley against the Giants due to “Tarpgate,” I posted this article detailing the 22 games that were suspended at Wrigley between 1971 and the installation of lights in 1988. (Here’s more on Tarpgate and the resulting rule change.)

Following that, few games anywhere ended in ties. The last Cubs tie game before Thursday evening happened May 28, 1993, a 2-2, five-inning tie with the Montreal Expos at Wrigley Field, a cold, miserable Friday afternoon where both teams scored in the fifth and then it got too wet to continue. The Tribune recap of that game notes:

It wasn't the winning run that Rick Wilkins scored with two outs in the final inning Friday. But it was the run that enabled the Cubs to avoid a loss.

So catcher Wilkins and his fellow Cubs had reason to feel upbeat after their come-from-behind, rain-shortened, 2-2 five-inning tie against the speedy young greyhounds who zip around the bases for the Montreal Expos.

Wilkins was in the thick of the action in a game that was twice delayed by rain, for 37 minutes in the third inning and for 1 hour 14 minutes before umpires called it after each team scored its only runs in the fifth.

It was ruled an official game, meaning statistics count. It will be replayed as part of a double-header Aug. 17 at Wrigley Field.

I wasn’t at that game, as in those days my work schedule didn’t allow me to get to most Friday games, which started at 2:20 in that era. I have attended three tie games at Wrigley, though, one in 1981, one in 1985 and one in 1988, all of which are detailed in the suspended-game article linked above.

After 1993, many games were played in awful weather conditions, not only at Wrigley, but over all of baseball, long enough to get to a decision. The last tie game before Thursday’s happened June 30, 2005, when the Astros and Reds played to a 2-2, seven-inning tie at Cincinnati. That Retrosheet boxscore notes:

Game called for rain. Will be replayed on 7/2

The suspended-game rule was tweaked in 2009 because of what happened in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, when Joe Maddon’s Rays and the Phillies were forced to play in a torrential downpour until the Rays tied the game in the top of the sixth, so the game could be suspended. Again, a boxscore note:

game suspended due to heavy rain and winds at 10:39 PM; resumed at 8:40 on 10/29; the first suspension in World Series history; temperature at the time of the resumption was 44 but it was dry

(Incidentally, current Cub Ben Zobrist and Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske both played in that game for the Rays.)

And that brings us to the current suspended-game rule, which provides that any game that’s tied after becoming official can be suspended and completed before the next game between the two teams. But in a case like Thursday -- where it’s the final game between the teams for the season and the game means nothing to either team for postseason spots — it’s simply declared a tie, with all statistics counting. As charmingly described in this article about tie games:

Can a tie game occur today? Sure, but the stars have to align just so. There is, and has been all along, an exception to suspended games. The game is usually finished on the day of the next game, on the same ground, between the two clubs. If no such game is scheduled, it is finished at their next game on the other side’s field. A later elaboration is that they will make a day, however inconvenient, if the game might affect the final standings. But for those dreary late September games in bad weather that will make no difference either way, the league (or, nowadays, MLB) says the hell with it: go home.

So if a game is stopped with at least five innings played and the score tied, and if the two teams are not scheduled to meet again that season, and if the game would not affect the final standings, then the MLB office would say the heck with it and leave it as a tie. It could happen…

And, less than a year after that article was written, it did happen. This Cubs season has had so many remarkable things occur, with the best, hopefully, yet to come. Now we get to add “tie game” to the Big Cubs Book of 2016 -- their record forever having a “-1” after the losses, currently standing at 101-57-1. (Also, there’s some really interesting baseball history in that linked tie game article, worth your time.)

Final note on tie games: there are often ties in spring-training games, usually by mutual agreement between the teams. Generally, teams bring enough pitchers to go nine or maybe 10 innings, if the game’s tied after that, it stays tied. The Cubs had two ties this past spring; some teams had as many as five.

About Thursday’s game itself... well, not much happened. Both runs scored on sacrifice flies, by Tim Federowicz and Josh Bell. Rob Zastryzny acquitted himself reasonably well for 3⅔ innings and 57 pitches, and the run off him was unearned due to a throwing error by Federowicz. Here are 49 seconds worth of highlights:

Honestly, if you missed the game, you saw pretty much the entire story in those 49 seconds. One curious note about Zastryzny’s appearance:

After the game, on their way to Cincinnati, the Cubs did their annual rookie (and in this case, team) dress-up trip. Veterans wore football jerseys and rookies were cheerleaders:

I see Walter Payton well-represented there, good choice.

On the walk watch: The Cubs didn’t walk at all in this shortened game and thus still need 11 walks in the season’s final three games to break the franchise record.

On the run watch: The single run brought the season total to 790. The Cubs need 10 or more runs in the final series at Cincinnati to get to 800 runs for just the third time since 1937 (806 in 1970 and 855 in 2008).

Jason Hammel, who was originally going to start Friday, was scratched due to a minor elbow issue. Jake Buchanan, who has made just one relief appearance (25 days ago) since coming to the Cubs and who hasn’t started a major-league game since 2014, will start for the Cubs on what will be another bullpen day. Josh Smith, who’s also primarily a reliever but who started against the Cubs at Wrigley last week, will go for the Reds.

And guess what? Rain is in the Cincinnati forecast. Maybe we can tie one on again.