14 May 2018

My First Extra-Inning Game (Under New Rules)

Joe Reisel's Archives

On April 21, the Buffalo Bisons played the Norfolk Tides at Harbor Park. The game was scoreless through seven innings, but Buffalo scored three runs in the eight off Donnie Hart (on a two-out bases-loaded walk and a flare to center field.) Norfolk bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the eighth based on a Jaycob Brugman triple into the right-field corner. Buffalo added an insurance run in the ninth via alert baserunning, and the Tides tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on a Joey Rickard double to the left-center fence. Unfortunately for the Tides, Alex Presley's sharp line drive was right at Dwight Smith in right field, so the game went to extra innings.

I attended that game, working as the scorer for Baseball Info Solutions, and this was my first game in which Minor League Baseball's apocalyptic new extra-inning rules were applied. According to  players, commentators, and traditionalist fans, this wouldn't be baseball at all but some bastardization akin to a home-run derby. Sure enough, at the start of the top of the tenth, Bison Anthony Alford trotted out and took a place on second base. Joely Rodriguez stood on the mound; got the sign from Andrew Susac, and pitched to Danny Espinosa. Espinosa hit a medium-speed chopper down the third-base that bounced over Anderson Feliz' glove and went for a double; Alford scored the go-ahead run. Rodriguez walked Rowdy Tellez, then struck out Reese McGuire. Matt Wotherspoon replaced Rodriguez as the pitcher, and struck Gift Ngoepe and Jason Leblebijian.

Before I describe the rest of the game, I want to emphasize how unremarkable that inning was. Yes, Buffalo scored a run because Alford was placed on second base to start the inning. But everything else was, well, baseball. Pitchers were pitching. Batters were taking some pitches and swinging at others. Fielders were fielding balls hit into play. Baserunners were running the bases. In short, it was still baseball - and more interesting baseball than most extra innings I've had to endure.

Moving forward, Alex Presley was placed on second base. Ruben Tejeda immediately bunted and was thrown out by the pitcher, with Presley moving to third and Tejada being credited with a sacrifice. Andrew Susac followed with a single and the game was tied, 5-5. But the next two batters were retired, and the game moved on.

Buffalo's Jason Leblebijian (yes, it's fun to type "Leblebijian") was placed on second base to start the eleventh inning. Darnell Sweeney drove the second pitch he saw into the Tides' bullpen for a two-run home run. Buffalo added another run on a wild pickoff attempt that also resulted in a runner being thrown out trying to advance (that was fun for the official scorer, who might have had to reconstruct the inning had the error not occurred.) Garabez Rosa was placed on second to start the bottom of the eleventh; the Tides were eventually able to score him but no others, and the game was a Buffalo 8-6 victory.

Neither I nor anyone else will know what would have happened had the new extra-inning rules not been enacted. But it's certainly possible that the game might have gone on for four, five, or more extra innings, each of which being a litany of batters swinging for the fence and either striking out or hitting weak fly balls. Starting the extra innings with a runner on second base provides more entertainment and interest than other extra innings.

As yet, there's no discussion of using this rule in the major leagues. I'm sure that the players' union, backed up by romantic traditionalists, will prevent the rule from being implemented, at least in my lifetime. But, at least so far in my experience, it hasn't hurt the game of baseball; and, its adoption shouldn't cause anyone from watching and enjoying a baseball game.

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