I sat in the Buckhorn clubhouse with Vargas and Figueroa after somehow simultaneously managing a shitty and excellent round of golf. Note: Vargas and Figueroa are not sidekicks from a 70s cop show, even though the names sound like it and the two themselves may even act like it.
Figueroa, you see, had just become a member at this fancy, private golf course in the area. I got the call that they needed a fourth.
But that’s not the point of this post.
There we sat at the 19th hole, with me, smack dab in the middle of a ten-day sobriety check (post-birthday bender-cleanse sorely needed), drinking ice water with my wings. We walked in to find a bunch of other golfers, already finished with their rounds, hollering at the Rays game. It was late afternoon and the Rays had just tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.
We tuned in intently as the game went into extra innings, the Rays’ on the third and final game of their opening home stand.
As the currently homeless Blue Jays batted in the top of the tenth, I noticed they had a man on second base. I didn’t recall seeing a player reach second base. I assumed I must have missed a quick double. That runner would eventually steal third and score on a sac fly, giving the Jays a 5-4 lead.
When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 10th, I noticed a Rays runner trotting out to second base to start the inning. That’s when I discovered something was amiss.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, baseball has a brand, new rule in effect and it’s a doozie, something that will, if only for a second, get us to stop debating the designated hitter rule.
This new rule is intended to both speed up and shorten the game, thanks in part to Coronavirus. But when (if?) this virus finally shuffles off this mortal coil, don’t be surprised if this new aspect of the game sticks around. It might just have staying power, injecting some late inning excitement into a sport that desperately needed it.
Vargas and Figueroa were equally unfamiliar with the new rules, both replying in unison “softball rules” when I brought it up. I immediately thought of college football overtime where, at the end of a tie game, opposing teams get the ball at the 25-yard line and can either score a touchdown, field goal or nothing at all. But, to be fair, plenty of other sports have ways to ensure their games don’t last forever. It’s institutionalized sports’ way of catering to our diminishing attention spans.
This new, man-on rule added a nail-biting element for certain. While baseball purists may complain (it’s what they do), I watched along, thinking of all the new strategies that could be employed. Instead of having bullpen arm after bullpen arm cut down weary batters who can no longer put the ball in play, you better be able to pitch from the stretch. And teams better get used to the basics again. The lost art of bunting, baserunning and sacrifice flies could doom a team if they can’t take advantage of a late runner in play.
The new rule is as follows. In extras, the last player to bat in the previous inning takes second base, thus not interfering with the lineup or any bench reserves. Each team gets to do this, otherwise playing the game as normal, until the game is over, not ending in a tie.
In Sunday’s Rays game, after a crafty at bat, Jose Martinez drew a walk after a 1-2 count, putting men on first and second. Both baserunners scored after a Kevin Kiermaier slapper to deep right field, giving the Rays a 6-5 victory.
Kiermaier was soon mobbed by his teammates as the clubhouse (both the Rays and at Buckhorn) celebrated the win. While fans would have been watching an extra innings game any way, I just can’t help but think the new rule added more excitement to the game. While the bartender probably wouldn’t have minded it going a few innings longer, I’m pretty sure Major League Baseball will enjoy the quelled complaints of the five-hour ballgame.
So there ya’ have it. In case you hadn’t been paying attention to baseball in the off-season (let’s be honest, who does?), there’s a new rule in town. It’s probably the best thing the sport has done for itself in decades. Now you won’t be surprised when you see a random runner on second in the tenth without seeing him earn his way on. And for you stat geeks out there, when that runner scores from second base, it does NOT count as an earned run.
Baseball needed an exciting change. It got it. Let’s see how long it lasts.