Well, Joe Torre, you just got an up-close look at how extra innings in the major leagues might work if your vision becomes reality. It wasn’t attractive.
The Netherlands and Puerto Rico were deadlocked after 10 in a taut World Baseball Classic semifinal Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Then came the 11th, and with it WBC rules: runners on first and second to lead off each half-inning. This was the second time the Dutch had played under these rules in the tournament; they lost to Japan the first time.
The Netherlands’ 11th went: Sacrifice bunt by Stijn van der Meer to move the runners to second and third; intentional walk to Yurendell de Caster to load the bases (all four pitches were thrown because the WBC doesn’t yet have the ridiculous automatic IBB rule); first-pitch, inning-ending double play grounder by Curt Smith.
The Puerto Rico 11th went: Sacrifice bunt by Yadier Molina to move the runners up; intentional walk to Javier Baez to load the bases; sacrifice fly by Eddie Rosario, driving in Carlos Correa, for the 4-3 win.
Formulaic. Inorganic. Ugly.
Team Puerto Rico celebrated because it was an important victory for the island commonwealth. It will now face the winner of Tuesday’s other semifinal between the U.S. and Japan. But the whole ending felt cheap, forced and rushed after 3 1/2 hours of highlight-reel plays and intensity that almost led to a brawl.
Suddenly, the drama was no longer steadily building. No longer was it a true test of wills. The teams had to wrap up this thing — never mind that of the 27 nine-inning games in this tournament, only three have been played in under three hours, which is to say, pace-of-play dictates have been largely ignored.
Major League Baseball is in the latter stages of spring training, and if this were a game between, say, the Rangers and Dodgers in Arizona, it would have been called a tie after 10 so as not to tax the pitchers. But this is a damn world tournament; play it that way. Play it the way MLB is trying to sell this event, as something important. Don’t fundamentally change the rules during the most important part of the game, college football/NHL-regular-season style (cue the “So now it goes to a shootout” jokes).
Torre, who has been in baseball for almost 60 years and is now an MLB vice president, wants to see how a similar rule works this year at the lowest levels of organized ball. On Monday, he saw how it might go at the highest levels. He won’t turn away in horror, but he should have seen that this change won’t be an effective makeover of free baseball.