Who’s on second? All-Star Game set to trot out free runners
CLEVELAND — Picture this, baseball fans: The All-Star Game is tied 4-4 on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, with New York Yankees flamethrower Aroldis Chapman set to face New York Mets rookie sensation Pete Alonso to start the top of the 10th inning.
But, wait! Before the first pitch, the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant casually trots from the National League dugout to take a lead off second base.
“Kind of weird,” said the New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil, the majors’ top hitter this year.
Already employed in the minors, the World Baseball Classic and Olympic softball, a new rule takes effect this week in front of a major league audience: Every extra inning in All-Star playbegins with a runner at second.
“Oh, they are doing it?” asked Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, an NL coach.
Yes, they are.
The crowd in Cleveland got a glimpse of the future, maybe, on Sunday night when the Futures Game used the rule for an inning. No one scored, and the showcase for young talent wound up in a tie.
Could be timely in the bigs, too. The last two All-Star Games both went extras — Robinson Cano hit a leadoff homer in the 10th at Miami in 2017, Alex Bregman did the same last year in Washington.
Plus, there was the 15-inning affair at Yankee Stadium in 2008 and the dreaded 2002 game in Milwaukee that was declared an unpopular tie after the 11th.
Naturally, in a sport where change comes slowly, not everyone is thrilled with this experiment. To many, instant intentional walks, constant shifts and talk about robot umpires has skewed the game enough.
If it’s any consolation, commissioner Rob Manfred said there are no foreseeable plans to put free runners on base in the regular season.
“I know how people are against it, especially players in the game. Yeah, the tradition is big in this sport, just like a lot of top-tier sports,” Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means said.
An All-Star this year, Means saw the test firsthand last year at Triple-A. So did Tampa Bay Rays All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows.
“I might have been a runner on second, but I’ve definitely seen it happen a lot,” said Meadows, a former Pirate. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. We’re going to play nine innings and get on with the second half.”
Some teams actually tried this out during spring training, starting with ties in the ninth. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy was the first to give it a go, and mass confusion ensued, mostly because he forgot to tell his players what was happening.
Oakland Athletics right-hander Liam Hendriks realizes he could be on the spot Tuesday night.
“It’s not an ideal scenario for a reliever because we’re the ones that get stuck with it,” he said. “You’re coming into a situation already with the guy on base in a tie game, there’s so many possibilities that can happen.”