Running Up The Score
By Martin Rogers
Mark Sandoval loves baseball’s new extra-innings rule so much that he fears he’s going to start rooting for opponents of his team to tie the score late in games.
Mike Clevinger hates it so much he called it the “whackest” thing he’s ever seen, and threw in a tasty expletive, just to emphasize the point.
And right there, in a pair of disparate opinions, you can sum up Major League Baseball’s decision to put a runner on second base from the 10th inning onward when games are tied this season.
Sandoval is a fan, a regular guy who lives in California and roots for the Los Angeles Angels. Clevinger is a pitcher, for the Cleveland Indians, a team that was an early casualty of an innovation designed to generate more runs, faster. Fans are going to be happy with this. Pitchers are not.
“It is so exciting,” Sandoval, 45, told me last weekend. “I had my doubts when it was first announced. I am a baseball traditionalist at heart. But this brings an immediate buzz to the game. I love baseball strategy and how it evolves. And now the best thinkers in the game are trying to come up with ways to beat this rule change.”
Coming out of the compacted campaign’s first weekend, there have been four extra-inning games. The first was when Sandoval’s Angels came up against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night. As the 10th inning began, Shohei Ohtani was promptly sent out to second base, but quickly made a baserunning blunder and got caught in a rundown, leading to a scoreless inning. Matt Olson then blasted a grand slam for the visitors to seal the contest.
In Cleveland, the Indians were on the losing side against the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, meaning Clevinger’s seven solid innings of work counted for nothing.
“This isn’t travel ball,” Clevinger told reporters. “This isn’t Perfect Game. You know how hard it is to get a runner on second base off the back end of any bullpen, how incredibly hard that is? And now all of a sudden you just get a guy on second base with a guy like (James) Karinchak on the mound.
“I’m not happy about it. I’m sure when other teams face the situation and this happens to them, you’re going to get similar reactions.”
We are in a situation where baseball’s best minds have no choice but to go into overdrive right now. No one knows for sure the optimal way to manage a 60-game major league schedule, because no one has had to do it before.
Similarly, there are going to be trends and flows and little in the way of agreement about how to handle the runner-on-second scenario. Bunting a runner across to third and then engineering a sacrifice fly would seem to be the most logical way to go about it, but that approach isn't for everyone.
Successful bunts are not as common as they once were, and when you've only got three outs to work with, giving one away also seems counter-intuitive.
The rule switch is just for this season, although it is far from beyond the realms of possibility that it sticks.
“It might be one of those changes we wind up liking,’’ Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It makes things interesting."
Pittsburgh Pirates assistant hitting coach Mike Rabelo managed under the system in the minors the past two seasons, and told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to expect the unexpected.
“I’ve seen it every which way,” Rabelo said. “Every night you end up walking away scratching your head. Just when you think you have a plan, it doesn’t work the next time you do it. It’s wild. Believe me, you’re going to see all sorts of stuff.”
Plenty of managers are avid supporters of the change, like David Bell of the Cincinnati Reds. A collection of New York Yankees are not in favor of the rule, most of them, you guessed it, pitchers.
“I'm personally not a fan of it just because I don't know who wants to pitch with a runner on second and nobody out in an extra-inning game," New York’s Chad Green said. “It’s not something that you necessarily look forward to when you’re about to run out there."
It has already produced some wild oddities. In the Cleveland vs. Kansas City game, the Royals scored a run despite no official at-bats being recorded, thanks to a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly, a walk and a runner being thrown out while attempting to steal.
Yes, it is odd and it is most certainly different. But it is great fun and let’s just put it this way - armchair viewers will learn pretty quickly that as soon as extras start nowadays, there is no time for bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, or get-the-grill-fired-up breaks.
The new rule is heightened entertainment, contrived for purpose, certainly, but ultimately fair to both teams and an appropriate method of concluding a game.
It is a savage development for those with nothing else to do and who wish for games to last into eternity. And yes, thank you pitchers, we get that it is no fun for you, either.
For everyone else, it is a win-win because of the fact that someone gets to win, more quickly and in more exciting fashion.