Arkansas Travelers Manager Cesar Nicolas still remembers being one of the guinea pigs for professional baseball's latest experiment two years ago.
It was 2017 in the Dominican Republic, and Nicolas was managing the Seattle Mariners' Dominican Summer League team. An innovative rule had been rolled out in the league, as well as in the Arizona Summer and Gulf Coast leagues, that would dramatically alter the game and how it's played if tied after regulation.
If a game reached extra innings, each team would start its half of the inning with a runner already on second base. The runner would be that team's last hitter from the prior inning. Just one base hit could be enough to win the game.
"It was a little confusing at first," Nicolas recalled. "There's all these little intricacies that you got to get used to and understand. In my experience since then, I think most players have kind of gotten used to it."
The rule inherently created more urgency, while also serving as an easy tool for limiting the length of games and subsequently reducing the burden on teams' bullpens. The rule has been in place at the minor league level since the start of the 2018 season. The World Baseball Classic and Olympic softball also use it.
And on Tuesday night at the MLB All-Star Game in Cleveland, the rule was in place for the first time in the majors. But fans didn't get to see how it'd play out among actual big-leaguers, as the American League defeated the National League, 4-3, in the regulation nine innings.
But take Saturday, for example -- the Travelers' own latest test case for the rule.
The Travs were in a 1-1 stalemate with the Springfield Cardinals after nine innings at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.
In the bottom of the 11th, the Travs had Jordan Cowan start on second base. With no outs, Kyle Lewis hit a walk-off, ground-rule double to right field to give the home team a 2-1 victory.
"I've liked it. I do think that it speeds the game up, which is kind of why they did it," Travs third baseman Logan Taylor said of the rule. "It's different going against the traditional baseball way and trying something new, but I think that we've had success with it, so I think we tend to like it a little bit.
"You can put a bunt down, you can put a ball in play on the right side of the field and a guy's in scoring position or at third base with less than two [outs]. So then you hit a pop-up in the outfield and it's a sac fly. I mean, that completely changes the game. As far as if they should do it [in MLB] or not, I have no idea."
Those at the All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland on Sunday night, including Travs first baseman Evan White and right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn, also got a taste of the rule. The seven-inning contest did go into extras, before intentionally ending in a 2-2 tie after the eighth.
"I'm a big traditional guy, and I respect the traditions of the guys that came before me. I'm kind of getting used to [the rule] as well," White said. "It's not a big deal either way. You're gonna try to win the ball game regardless of what the situation is. If the big leagues decide to keep it the way it is, then great. If they make a change, too, then it's fine as well."
While the extra-innings rule is seen as a way of helping bullpens, that doesn't necessarily mean all relief pitchers have embraced the change.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals closer Tyler Zuber, a White Hall native and former Arkansas State University player, admitted during this week's series against the Travelers that he's not in love with the rule.
"As a pitcher, I'm not a huge fan of it," Zuber said. "Obviously, I see why they're doing it, to speed the game up, but it just wasn't how baseball was created.
"I think in my minor league career, I'm about 1-6 in those situations ... I guess the only positive thing out of it is that run's not earned. But still, giving up a run, it still sucks. It's still kind of gut-wrenching."
The real question remains if MLB would ever make it a permanent rule, and if so, would it only be used in the regular season.
Baseball hasn't embraced adaptation often through the years. However, recently, the pitch clock has debuted at various levels, and just this week, "robot umpires" were introduced at the Atlantic League All-Star Game in York, Pa., where balls and strikes were dictated by a computer.
Still, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said last year that he doesn't anticipate the extra-innings rule happening at that level.
At least one old-school baseball person would like to keep it that way.
"I'm kind of a purist," Nicolas said. "I get the reasoning behind it. There is an element of excitement to it. But I've been on the bad end of those games before, and it's very disappointing when you've played nine innings and then you come into the 10th and there's a guy on second base right away and he scores on a bloop single or something and you lose the game. I think it's probably still in the testing stages. It's got its pros and cons."
Sports on 07/12/2019
Print Headline: Extra-inning rule has its pros, cons