By Richard Cuicchi | March 19, 2017 at 08:16 PM EDT | No Comments
If you’ve been watching the World Baseball Classic, you may have seen a couple of games where extra-inning games were played under different rules than Major League Baseball uses during its regular season.
Here’s an excerpt of the WBC rule from the MLB website:
Extra Innings: For any inning beginning with the 11th inning, the team at bat shall begin the inning with runners on first and second base. The batter who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule. The runner on first base shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding the batter who leads off the inning. The runner on second base shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding the runner on first base.
The idea for the rule is that it will increase the chances the game will be ended sooner than normal, by creating higher probability run-scoring situations beginning with the 11th inning. It’s really not a new concept though, since a modified form of this rule has been in place since 2009 in the WBC (although never used) and also has already been instituted in some international baseball leagues.
In addition to prescribed pitch count limits for pitchers, the primary purpose of this extra-innings rule for the WBC is to prevent the over-use of pitchers during the tournament, in a time of the year when major-league pitchers representing the various countries are still trying to get in shape for the regular season.
However, it has been suggested Major League Baseball consider adopting a similar rule as a way to speed up games or improve the pace of play in games, which has been a recent emphasis of the MLB Commissioner’s Office.
But just how much would this rule actually be used and would it make much of real difference? Last year, there were 185 extra-inning games, and 110 of those went eleven innings or more. That’s out of 2,428 total games played during the regular season. On average, each team played seven games of eleven innings or more during the season. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros had the most occurrences with fourteen each.
That doesn’t sound like a lot of affected games, so while it may be a useful on a game-by-game basis for managers to save some pitchers’ arms, it won’t significantly alter the overall perception by fans that games are shorter or that the speed of the game is increased.
However, Major League Baseball has plans to implement the new extra-innings rule on an experimental basis in the low minors this year.
Many baseball purists will argue that extra-inning games are some of the most exciting a fan can attend, despite the additional length of the game. There becomes a sort of “sudden death” mentality at that point in the game—it’s a do-or-die 9th inning situation being repeated until a team prevails with a winning run. When extra innings are involved, managers are often forced to employ different strategies to make lasting use of their bullpens and bench players. On occasion when those strategies don’t go as planned, a position player gets called on to pitch an inning or two in desperation, and that usually makes for an interesting story.
Some of the most memorable games in baseball history went into extra-innings.
In the 2005 World Series between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox, Game 3 lasted 14 innings, with the White Sox eventually prevailing, 7-5. The game, which lasted 5 hours and 41 minutes, was won on Geoff Blum’s dramatic home run and a bases-loaded walk in the top of the 14th inning.
The longest major-league game ever played took 8 hours, 6 minutes in a 25-inning contest between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox in 1984. The game was actually suspended after 17 innings due to an American League curfew rule that didn’t allow an inning to start after 12:59am. The game was resumed the next day and completed when the White Sox’ Harold Baines hit a home run to end the extended game with a score of 7-6.
However the record for most innings ever played in a single professional game is 33, when the minor-league Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings played on June 22-23, 1981. The game lasted over eight hours, although all but 18 minutes were played on the first day. Pawtucket eventually won, 3-2. Two future Hall of Fame players, Cal Ripken Jr. (Rochester) and Wade Boggs (Pawtucket), played in the historic game.
Another out-of-the-box idea has been bandied about for settling extra-inning games in a timely fashion, as well as adding more excitement to the game. It involves the use of a home run derby contest after the ninth inning of a tie game, where each team puts up one or two players to slug out a win-loss decision for the game. Just think, if that were done, baseball statisticians might be headed toward yet another sabermetric--number of derby home runs per extra inning (note the sarcasm).
It’s not clear that any change in rules for extra-inning games would be viewed as a real improvement, but it is clear that Major League Baseball is intent on trying to spice up the game for the next generation of fans.