The off-season is my time for confessing unpopular opinions, so here’s another one: I like the MiLB extra-innings rule that begins with a runner on second base. It represents a win for fans and for players.
The rule itself isn’t new. MLB announced it in March 2018, “At all levels of Minor League Baseball, extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.” The hitter who ended the previous inning serves as the designated runner, and the batting order continues uninterrupted. (In terms of scoring, the designated runner is listed as an error; should he score, the run is unearned.)
The rule is designed both to shorten games and to protect players’ health, especially pitchers. (You can read assessments of it here, here, here, and here.)
I had my first experience with this potential MLB rule change when the Rockies played the Royals on Friday. The game was tied going into the ninth inning, and managers Bud Black and Ned Yost agreed to use the extra-innings rule.
(I suspect that rather than wanting to explore the possibilities of this potential rule change, Black wanted to see how Ryan McMahon would perform coming off the bench, just as he did in Thursday’s game against Cleveland.)
When the Rockies came to bat against pitcher Drew Storen, Peter Mooney was the designated runner; David Dahl walked; Mooney and Dahl advanced on a wild pitch; Chris Rabago was hit by a pitch, and then McMahon singled to score Mooney.
Here’s what I noticed.
The game was immediately dramatic — To use a literary term, the ninth inning began in medias res. It reminded me of overtime in NCAA football: Both teams have an immediate opportunity. Moreover, the situation was tense. Because of the runner in scoring position, the pitcher had to multitask and couldn’t focus only on the hitter.
The situation was less demanding for the bullpen — In this game, both teams only needed to use one pitcher. This arrangement significantly reduces the demand on teams during extra innings. Over the course of a 162-game season, this strategy has the potential to be significant.
It shortened the game — While watching the Rockies play, I was reminded of a Rockies extra-innings game against the Giants last year on May 18. The game was already late — it was on the West Coast, after all. The strike zone became increasingly less consistent; the seagulls settled in; it was very late; and the whole thing just became weird. The Rockies won, 5-3, in 12 innings, but it became an exercise in endurance, and if it was long for me, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the players.
A purist may say that this is how baseball should be played, but I found Friday’s shortened version to be equally tense and not nearly so stressful.
Add this one to my heretical beliefs: I’m ready for fewer extra innings.