The Trouble About Extra Innings (And How To Make It Better!)
I’m a sucker for extra innings baseball. The only thing better, in my mind, is multiple overtime playoff hockey, and in both cases I don’t care who the teams are–if it’s the 15th inning or 3rd overtime, my eyeballs are there if they can be. Too often it seems, though, that when a baseball game does get to extra innings, it’s over too soon, with a pattern something like this: home team closer pitches the top of the 10th, before the home team walks off in the bottom of the 10th on a walkoff or bloop single.
The way extra innings operate, you see this pattern because the design of the game is tilted pretty heavily in the home team’s favor in a tie game from the 9th inning on; thus, you see a duel of top-tier pitchers (closers, unused setup guys) to start things off, before the rest of the bullpen (possibly) gets stretched to 2 or more innings to delay a position player entering the game on the mound (decidedly less fun to see than in a blowout). All the while, the home team plays defense knowing that even if the visitors score, they’ve got 3 outs to make it up, a luxury the visitors don’t have in a tie game, where a run scored is game over.
So, how could extra innings be better? Well, here are two things to change:
#1: A game needing more than 9 innings, gets to a minimum of 12
This would serve to potentially change the usage of pitchers in an extended game. The closer wouldn’t be quickly deployed, as there is still the possibility of a close finish toward the end–akin to the 7th-9th innings in a regulation game. Naturally, if the game gets tied up late (say, in the 9th), maybe nothing changes except you’ll see a 2-3 inning performance right away out of a guy, with more to come later as needed. The road team gets a little bit of wiggle room in determining how they want to align their pitching, based on who comes out first for the home team (and how they come out–double switch, straight up replacement). In any case, I would expect that this would lead to a bit more scoring in these innings, or at least a little more baseball as normal before walk-off time comes.
#2: After 12 innings–the game is sudden death
A mandatory 3-inning extension to the game only does so much, as after that, we end up with the same general issues–except in the 13th inning instead of 10th. At this point in the game, with players tiring, bullpens likely nearing empty, and benches tapped out, it’s time for put up or shut up, next score wins. Everyone has to play under the same circumstances now. Good bye, marginal home team advantage. If you want to win the game, you’re going to have to keep the visiting from scoring no matter what–just like they’ll have had to do with you since the creation of the game. The increase in drama is certainly worth the elimination of the 17+ inning marathon, but as with anything, all good things must come to an end. Some poor pitcher will eventually have to deal with the shame of letting someone else walk off in his home park.