The biggest difference between baseball and the other major sports is a clock. The other sports have one; baseball doesn’t. So when Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over till it’s over,” he was right, assuming he was talking about his sport.
In baseball, the threat of a late-game comeback, no matter the deficit, is always possible. Such is not the case in basketball. If your team is down 20 with 2:30 left, you can stop watching. In baseball, you can never safely stop watching, which is what makes baseball great and what makes it sort of terrible, too.
If your team is leading by seven runs in the seventh inning and you want to stop watching, that’s not a bad idea. I wish I had done that more while watching the Mets in 2007. But if your team is losing and you tune out you never know if you’re going to miss a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
What got me thinking about this was Tuesday night’s Mets-Nationals game at Citi Field. The Mets were down 3-0 before they came to bat. They trailed 6-1 in the fifth, and, according to Baseball-Reference.com, which provides win probabilities given two average teams playing each other, the Mets had a four percent chance of winning after Jason Bay flew out to end the inning.
The score was 6-2 when they came up in the eighth, and the likelihood of winning was still just four percent. Remember, this is with two average teams playing each other. The Mets were not average on this night; they were awful. Even after the first two batters reached base, it was hard to get excited; the Mets had already hit into three double plays. The run-scoring error that proceeded the hits helped, but the next batter struck out and it seemed like New York had just been delaying the inevitable.
But before the Nats could get the second out, the Mets strung together straight four hits followed by consecutive walks and had taken an 8-6 lead. They had gone from being four down with six outs to work with to needing only three outs to secure a win.
In basketball, a barrage of three-pointers can cut a deficit rather quickly. A combination of a big special teams play, a long touchdown pass, and a forced turnover can turn around a football game in a hurry. But in these sports, a team that holds a commanding lead late in the contest has the clock to do the hard part: end the game.
The clock provides room for error. It makes commentators applaud the fight of the trailing team but announce that it is “too little too late.” In baseball, it is never too late. There’s no holding the ball to run out the remaining time. If you want to end the game you’re going to have to do it yourself.
Of course, Tuesday night’s Mets-Nats game was an aberration. There is a reason the Mets’ odds of winning were 1:25. If your team looks listless and the weakness of the team — scoring runs — is what’s going to have to carry them back, you should have no worries about turning off the radio, changing channels on the TV, or leaving the stadium. Usually, in a situation like that, watching the rest of the game is a waste of time.
But every now and then, your team will reward your commitment. And that’s why baseball is so fun — and so frustrating.