We told you the 2020 Major League Baseball season would be unlike any we’ve seen before. On Friday night, we saw one of the biggest reasons why.
Extra-inning games as we’ve always known them will not exist during the 60-game regular season. They’ve been temporarily altered with a new set of rules aimed at bringing faster conclusions to games not decided in nine innings.
We definitely got a quick resolution in the first game played under these one-year-only rules. Matt Olson launched a 10th-inning walk-off grand slam to propel the Oakland Athletics to a 7-3 win against the Los Angeles Angels.
How much the rules actually played into that conclusion is debatable. The Angels failed to score in the top half despite starting the inning with a runner on second base. In the bottom half, Oakland got the same advantage and ended up loading the bases with two walks. That set the stage for Olson’s heroics.
What isn’t debatable is that the setup made for a unique experience.
These same extra-inning rules were adopted by Minor League Baseball during the 2018 season, but we understand that not everyone has a local minor league team to follow. For those experiencing these rules for the first time, you might have some questions about what just happened and why.
Here, we’ll do our very best to provide some answers.
How did that runner get to second base?
The first and most important rule to understand: From the 10th inning on, each half inning will begin with a runner already on second base.
The idea is that by starting each inning with a runner in scoring position, the odds of scoring a run are increased, thereby increasing the odds of a quick conclusion. Given the circumstances this season — most notably, jamming 60 games into roughly two months — MLB doesn’t want games dragging out until the 18th or 19th inning.
Games could still go 18 innings, of course. There’s no guarantee teams will complete the task of scoring the gifted run, nor is there a guarantee they won’t continue matching each other’s scoring output for several innings. But it does improve the odds of games ending faster, while also increasing urgency and drama.
Who is the runner on second base?
More times than not, he’ll be the guy who made the previous inning’s final out. It just depends on how the inning ended.
The lineup continues like it normally would. That means the inning’s leadoff batter will be the next scheduled hitter based on where the previous inning left off. As for the runner, he’s the player in the lineup preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter.
On this occasion, Shohei Ohtani made history as the first extra-inning baserunner. In the ninth inning, he made the final out with the bases loaded. In the tenth, he managed to make the very next out when he was thrown out running the bases. In no other baseball scenario would that be possible.
Teams also have the option of using a pinch runner. As is customary, any player removed for a substitute during extra innings will be ineligible to return to the game.
How is the pitcher’s ERA impacted?
If the gifted runner scores, it will not be charged to the pitcher.
For purposes of calculating earned runs, the runner who begins an inning on second base pursuant to this rule shall be deemed to be a runner who has reached second base because of a fielding error, but no error shall be charged to the opposing team.
So basically, it’s an unearned run. Unfortunately for the pitcher, they can still be charged with the loss if the gifted runner scores. In the case of Hansel Robles, the losing pitcher in Friday’s game, he’ll be charged with two runs because of the walks.
When does the game end?
Nothing new here.
If a team is leading at the end of a full inning, that team wins. Nothing extra needs to be accomplished. Just score the most runs in the decisive inning and you win. More times than not, a grand slam will do that for you.
What’s the weirdest thing that can happen?
That’s a fascinating question to ponder. Baseball has a way of creating moments we never thought we’d see, and these rules open the door for some weird things — like Ohtani making two straight outs — to happen.
Here are a couple others.
A one-pitch defensive inning: One-pitch innings have always been possible for the hitting team. A walk-off home run completes that trick. However, it’s never been possible for the pitching team to complete a legitimate three-out inning with one pitch. Until now. All that’s required is an intentional walk (no official pitches thrown) and a triple play, which, yeah, that’s asking for a lot, but it can still absolutely happen.
And yes, there are other ways a one-pitch inning could happen. A team batting terribly out of order, for example. But three true outs could only happen in extra innings during the 2020 season,
Winning without seeing a pitch: Think about this. A team could conceivably score a run without seeing a pitch. And there’s more than one way that could happen. Whether it be a pair of balks, a wild throw on a pickoff attempt, or some combination of the two, a runner could trot home without the batter facing a pitch.
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