Detroit — Some of the most-memorable baseball games have been extra-inning affairs. In Tigers history, the one that stands out most came Aug. 25, 2007 — well, actually, it was Aug. 26, when Detroit’s Carlos Guillen swatted a home run through the raindrops at Comerica Park to send the home fans home happy at 3:30 in the morning. The Tigers had beaten the Yankees, 9-6, in 11 innings.
Under today’s baseball rules, with a runner starting on second base in extra innings like this is high-school softball, that thrilling moment might never have happened. The Tigers or Yankees might’ve won it in 10 innings, having pushed a runner to third, and scored him on a sacrifice fly.
Would you remember where you were when that happened?
And, such is the great debate about arguably the most-controversial change to the game in the Rob Manfred era of Major League Baseball. MLB went to the runner rule during a shortened 2020 season, and kept it for 2021 — and, gulp, possibly forever — in an attempt to shorten games and preserve pitchers’ health.
The Tigers lost in 10 innings on Friday night, 5-4, when the White Sox start-off runner advanced to third base on a fly ball, and then scored on a sacrifice fly. The Tigers’ record in extra-inning games is 4-3 in 2021.
“I think it’s serving its purpose,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said before Saturday’s game against the White Sox at Comerica Park. “Whether people like it or not is up to themselves.”
That’s not to say there’s not room for improving the rule, Hinch said.
One idea he floated was keeping the runner for extra innings, but maybe starting the runner on first in the 10th inning, then starting the runner on second in the 11th inning. That way there’d be at least a little more challenge in scoring the run during the first additional inning.
“Maybe,” said Hinch, “get a little creative with it.”
But even under the current format, Hinch said, it still creates excitement in the stands. He said you could feel the buzz Friday night to start extra innings, after Daz Cameron blasted a two-run homer in the ninth to tie the game.
Like that 2007 Guillen game, Friday’s ended in the rain. But it ended before midnight.
“Every ballpark we’ve been in, there’s a change you can feel from the ninth inning to the 10th inning when the runner’s at second,” Hinch said. “It’s hard to argue, unless you are just anti-evolving, that it doesn’t create some sort of exciting momentum.”
Diehard baseball fans would argue, though, that there’s just as much excitement in a marathon extra-inning game, like, say, the Tigers’ 4-2 over the Milwaukee Brewers at old County Stadium on July 8, 2000. The game went 15 innings, and lasted 5 hours, 20 minutes. They played their seventh-inning staple, “Roll Out The Barrel,” twice.
If you’re a Tigers fan who was at the game, you remember it like it was yesterday.
But that’s not today’s MLB, and it may never be again.
“You don’t have any of these exhausting 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-inning games like you’ll see every now and then,” Hinch said. “At the end of the day, we’re conserving health. These long games, we want to keep position players off the pitching mound. I’m in favor of it.”
Health is one consideration, though game time might be the bigger one. Pace of play has been one of Manfred’s obsession since becoming commissioner. The average game time in 2021 is 3 hours, 9 minutes, three minutes longer than in 2020, but actually one minute shorter than 2019, the last year there was no special extra-inning rule. The 3:09 is the second-longest average in MLB history, behind 2019’s 3:10.
Around the horn
►Third baseman Jeimer Candelario is back in the country after tending to a family emergency in the Dominican Republic, and is undergoing testing and quarantine. He is expected to rejoin the team at some point during the next series, in Kansas City.
►New assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman was a candidate for the job after Hinch became manager, but Hinch said he went with Jose Cruz Jr. because of their relationship. Cruz is leaving the Tigers next week to become head coach at Rice.
►Catcher Wilson Ramos (lumbar spine strain), out since May 24, was set to begin a rehab assignment with Single-A Lakeland on Saturday.
►Center fielder Derek Hill (shoulder sprain) will rehab in Lakeland, Florida, but will be on the injured list longer than the minimum 10-day stay, Hinch said.
►Starter Julio Teheran still isn’t throwing, Hinch said. He’ll be in Lakeland next week, after multiple consultations with his doctors and the team’s doctors.
►Cameron got a start Saturday afternoon after his Friday night heroics, and Miguel Cabrera was scheduled to get a day off.
White Sox at Tigers
►First pitch: 1:10 Sunday, Comerica Park, Detroit
►TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit/97.1
►LHP Carlos Rodon (5-2, 1.96), White Sox: It’s been a heck of a career revival for Rodon, who was granted free-agency last offseason, re-signed with the White Sox and has been dominant, including a no-hitter early in the season against the Cleveland Indians. He allowed two hits in a win over Detroit on April 29.
►TBA, Tigers: To give Matthew Boyd an extra day of rest (he’ll go Monday), the Tigers will use Sunday as a bullpen day. Who goes first isn’t yet known.
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