Can You Tie in Baseball? – A Detailed Explanation

Michael Claunch

The specifics of baseball scoring can be confusing to those who didn’t grow up with the game, and some casual fans are often unsure of what happens in a certain scenario. One of the most common dilemmas is – “can baseball games end in a tie?”, and the correct answer is not obvious. While tied games are indeed rare in Major League Baseball in the modern era, they can occur if several conditions are met. This requires a detailed explanation that takes into account the historical record as well as modern MLB rules, as baseball’s relationship with tied games evolved over its long existence.

Assuming you already understand how normal baseball games are scored and decided, we’ll explain if you can tie in baseball and how it is determined whether a specific MLB game may become a draw.

What happens if a baseball game is tied after 9 innings?

It’s relatively common for two teams to score the same number of runs after 9 innings of play, but that’s not an end of a baseball game. Each team is given another chance to score in one or more extra innings, and the game continues until one team is ahead at the end of an inning. In theory, this could go on forever but in practice, a game can be delayed for practical reasons such as rain. If the game can’t be finished on the same day, the remainder may be played the next day or when the two teams meet again during the season.

This mechanism ensures that a vast majority of baseball games have a clear winner. Still, some games can be officially declared as ties if the score remains equal even after several extra innings, with exact baseball tie rules depending on the level of competition and the league. In the MBL, only games that have no bearing on the competitive balance in the standings may fall into this category, which is why only regular season games played at the very end of the season are liable to end in a tie.

Does Major League Baseball allow games to end in ties?

Tied games are very rare in professional baseball, to the point that the average fan can’t remember any such games. However, there are instances where regular season MLB games were recorded as ties due to a combination of reasons. As we mentioned, the game must not have any impact on the standings and it must be played at the end of the season, without further meetings between the two teams. That way no team would lose any ground in the playoff race and the implications of continuing the game would be purely theoretical, so it’s not worthy of expending resources and risking injuries.

Photo by Jakob Rosen on Unsplash

If you are wondering can you tie in baseball during the MLB playoffs, the answer is a resolute no. By definition, playoff games are incredibly impactful and they must be played out to the end. While extra innings work in playoffs exactly the same way as in the regular season, the game can’t end until one team has squarely secured a victory.

Why are tied games less common today than in the past?

The conditions of play have been greatly improved over the past several decades, resulting in far fewer tied games than was normal during the early days of MLB’s existence. In particular, the installation of lights on all stadiums eliminated the need to interrupt games due to darkness, so games with lots of extra innings can now run long into the evening. Considering that the last stadium to introduce electrical lighting was Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1988, it’s been much easier to resolve tied games in recent times.

With modern lighting enabling teams to play long after dusk (and even schedule games with a late start), the conditions that would cause a tie are very rare in today’s MLB and the number of draws has been reduced to almost zero. In an average season, there won’t be any ties and each team’s record will feature an exact number of wins.

Recent examples of MLB ties

While ties in baseball are seen only occasionally, they have not been completely eliminated from the sport. In the 21st century, there have been a couple of instances where a last-day game was declared a tie after it took a long time to complete. The most recent example was recorded at the end of the 2016 season and involved Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. This game didn’t even last a lot of innings – the score was tied at 1-1 after 6 innings when a rain delay stopped the action. Since the Cubs were locked into a top playoff position and the Pirates had no chance of qualifying for the postseason, the league decided not to organize a continuation on the next day.

Another famous example happened in 2002 during the All-Star game. This game lasted for 11 innings and was tied at 7-7 when the teams ran out of fresh pitchers to put on the mound. To the great displeasure of the fans, it was decided not to force players to continue and neither team was declared the winner of the exhibition game. The MVP of the game wasn’t selected either, so this year will always have an asterisk next to it in the baseball history books.

What should you answer if anyone asks you whether ties exist in baseball?

You should take notice of your audience and its baseball knowledge before you venture into debating can you tie in baseball. While the correct answer is that ties are indeed possible in baseball even today, this outcome never occurs in a meaningful game. That’s why for all practical purposes baseball can be considered a sport without ties and people who claim this are only technically wrong. Since a tie can’t affect the hunt for the pennant, it’s better to avoid this conversation altogether and instead debate other, more entertaining aspects of a game.

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