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The low-scoring affairs in today’s Major League Baseball season may bring demands for the “barn burners” of the past, where runners crossed the plate nearly every inning, and a parade of pitchers tried to stem the tidal waves of offense. There have been too many 1-0 baseball games to count. But how about the other end of the spectrum, games where both teams cracked a double-digit number of runs?
It rather begs the question: What is the highest scoring MLB game in history? The highest total score in a single game is 49 runs, in a 26-23 contest between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies in 1922. Single-game records for one team’s high score are broken down as follows:
- Most runs scored by a team in a single game is 36, by the Chicago Colts (now Cubs) against the Louisville Colonels in June 1897.
- The “modern” record (meaning after 1900) is 30 scored by the Texas Rangers against the Baltimore Orioles in August 2007. The National League record is the 29 runs the Atlanta Braves scored against the Miami Marlins just last year, in September 2020.
It’s a lot of runs for a 9-inning affair. Baseball fans probably immediately wonder, “Where was the pitching?” Sure, in some very high-scoring games the pitchers just don’t have it, and in fact teams may run out of guys to throw so they’ll bring in a position player (a non-pitcher) to hurl an inning or so.
However, there are other reasons why some games seem to get out of control with players running around the bases. Let’s explore some of the memorable high-scoring MLB games.
Baseball’s Highest Scoring Games: the Notables
It’s interesting to note that the 2 highest-scoring games in modern-day MLB occurred this century ~ in fact, within the past 15 years. It indicates the reality that for a long time, scoring in baseball had continued to climb significantly. Team home run records were set nearly each season, and it seemed guys who had no business hitting balls over the fence were doing it a lot.
That changed in 2021 as MLB introduced balls with higher seams, impacting the length of their flight through the air, and giving pitchers better grips to spin balls harder to baffle hitters.
However, sometimes it doesn’t matter what a pitcher chucks up there: hitting just seems contagious. They call wild, high-scoring games in baseball “barn burners,” and here are some of the most memorable. Beginning with the record-holder.
Get Us a ‘Touchdown’: Cubs vs. Phillies, Round 1
On Aug. 25, 1922, about 7,000 fans sat in what was then called Cubs Park, for a game that lasted barely 3 hours (make note of that compared with today’s baseball games!). Just stating that the Cubs won, 26-23, doesn’t tell how much action was packed into that little time slot.
First of all, it’s amazing the game was so short time-wise, when there were 21 walks among all the various pitchers. That’s a lot of extra pitches as called balls.
After a relatively quiet first inning, the 2nd inning saw all Phillies batters step to home plate, and then the Cubs scored 10 runs. By the 3rd it was 11-6. A whole bunch of strange things stand out in the box score:
- Cubs right-fielder Marty Callaghan faced the same pitcher 3 times in 1 inning (the 4th). His team scored 14 runs that inning. The score was 25-6 once Callaghan struck out for the final out.
- It wasn’t until the 8th and 9th innings that the Phillies made a run for the record book, scoring 8 in the 8th, and 6 the final frame ~ coming up just short of a miraculous comeback.
- In the end, the poor pitchers were let down by epic proportions by their fielders. The Cubs committed 5 errors, the Phillies 4, making 21 of the runs unearned.
- Of the Phillies’ 26 hits, 20 were singles.
The Chicago Tribune reported that yells could be heard from the crowd “imploring for a ‘touchdown’ ”; others urged their team to ‘shoot another basket.’ ” Back in those days few fans expected football or basketball scores at a baseball game.
The game smashed the previous record for highest scoring MLB game in history, which was 44, set in July 1890 by the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders, who topped the Buffalo Bisons, 28-16.
Cubs vs. Phillies, Round 2: Wrigley Whirlwind
Aside from the record-setting game above, only 1 other MLB time since 1901 saw the teams score 20 or more runs each. The Cubs and Phillies once again squared off in Chicago, in 1979 at Wrigley Field, for a nationally televised game ~ which many of today’s old-time baseball fans still remember. Aside from the final 23-22 score, the match was notable as a battle between sluggers Mike Schmidt and Dave Kingman.
A key here is the strong Chicago wind ~ blowing out an estimated 18 mph toward the outfield fences, already not too far away in the cozy Wrigley confines.
This game took a little more than 4 hours ~ featuring 50 hits, 11 of them home runs! There were 15 walks, so not as bad as the record game, but a lot more homers including the notable last one.
Kingman hit 3 home runs during the game. However, amazingly the game was tied after 9 innings. Then Schmidt, batting off future Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter, homered for the final tally. The box score indicates:
- Schmidt also walked 4 times.
- Kingman had 6 runs batted in, but didn’t even lead his team on the day. Bill Buckner had 7 RBIs, including a grand slam.
- During the constant back-and-forth, the Cubs cut the lead by 12 runs and finally tied the game, before Schmidt’s decider.
Postseason Madness: Phillies vs. Blue Jays
The highest-scoring MLB game in the postseason belongs to Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, another wild one in which the Blue Jays finally prevailed, 15-14.
A national audience saw an incredible show of offense by both teams. By the 7th inning, the Phillies felt secure with a 14-9 lead. However, Toronto scored 6 in the 8th to take the game in Philadelphia.
After Curt Schilling kept the Phillies alive with a win in Game 5, this was the Series that ended when Joe Carter hit the walk-off homer against “wild thing” reliever Mitch Williams.
Highest Scoring Minor League Baseball Games
Legend has it that a minor league baseball game way back in June 1869 finished with a whopping total of 219 runs. The Buffalo Niagaras topped the Columbus squad by a 209-10 score that day, according to reports.
Those same reports showed Buffalo scored 40 runs in the 1st inning alone.
Somehow the same pitcher threw the entire game for Columbus, giving up over 20 runs to every single Buffalo batter, each!
It’s worth noting that during this era, pitchers hurled balls underhanded, and had to place the ball in a location the batter requested. Therefore, games back then were often high-scoring affairs, long before bases on balls and over-handed pitching were introduced.
Final Words on Highest Scoring MLB Games
Perhaps the most peculiar thing about the highest-scoring games in MLB history is that few, if anyone, could have predicted beforehand the crazy final outcomes. Sometimes it’s just luck (or bad luck depending on which side of the score you’re on), or factors like strong winds that produce a lot of home runs, fallen base hits, and errant pitches.
It’s part of the allure of baseball, that one can hardly predict the outcome of games, whether a top team is playing the team with the worst record, or otherwise. Sometimes crazy-wild barn burners just erupt seemingly out of nowhere.
Question: What does “barn burner” mean?
Answer: It dates back to a 19th-century political term, but in modern dialect, barn burner means “a very exciting game, event, etc.”
Q.: Is there any limit to the number of runs that can be scored in 1 inning?
A.: No. There may be limits in lower, youth-levels of baseball (such a 4 runs per team per at-bat, a typical rule for T-ball divisions to speed games); and also in some adult slow-pitch softball leagues.
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