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Giants found drama in MLB's controversial extra innings rule

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For all of the new rules implemented in 2020, there weren't actually huge adjustments to be made from a baseball perspective. 

The addition of roster spots was helpful for the Giants, but it probably wasn't something you noticed during games. The DH certainly was noticed, but half of MLB already plays that way, and National League teams get a taste of DH life during interleague play in a normal season. The seven-inning games were certainly different, but they still looked exactly like normal baseball, just with fewer outs. 

There was one change, though, that really altered the way the game is played during tense innings, and it was the one that was by far the most controversial. 

Nobody liked the runner-on-second rule when it was added, and even late in the year, it was a strange feeling to look out at the start of the 10th inning and see a position player jogging into scoring position. The rule -- placing a runner on second at the start of every extra inning -- might ultimately have some staying power, though. 

MLB instituted it this year to reduce the likelihood of long games in a season played during a pandemic, but the rule already exists in the minor leagues. On Opening Day, as he went through the changes for a 60-game season, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he could see some of them sticking around in future years. Asked about an expanded postseason, Zaidi said this season "creates the opportunity to try new things and have everybody go 'Oh, that was awesome, that may be something that we keep.'"

 

"An example of that for me is the extra-inning rule," Zaidi continued. "I wouldn't be surprised if that gets maintained beyond this year because my sense is it's been really successful and popular in the minor leagues."

The Giants ended up playing five extra-inning games, going 2-3. Three of the five were decided in the 10th and the other two in the 11th. The Giants allowed the runner on second to score in five of the seven extra innings they played and brought their own runner home four of seven times.

Tyler Rogers, incredibly, pitched in all five extra-inning games, although one was the game from 2020 that he would most likely prefer to forget. Rogers was on the mound the first time the Giants experienced the new rule and was charged with six runs in an implosion against the San Diego Padres. That was the night Gabe Kapler messed up a pitching change, too. 

That game was one of the low points of the season, but perhaps it demonstrates why the runner-on-second rule is popular in MLB's offices. As much as most fans hated it, there are reasons to embrace the change. There were no games that dragged by through 15 or 16 innings as bullpens were chewed up, and health will certainly be a factor going forward. As quirky as those games that end at 1 a.m. can be, they're really difficult on players and clubhouse staff. 

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Those were all things we knew when the rule went into place. What 2020 demonstrated for the Giants is that the runner-on-second games can be much more memorable. 

The game where Trevor Gott blew a five-run lead? That ended in the 10th, with the A's bringing their free runner home. The game where Hunter Pence smacked a pinch-hit homer? That ended with the Giants bringing their runner home in the 10th against the Houston Astros and Rogers getting a save that had him choking up afterward. The Trevor Story Game? His magnificent play ended with Alex Dickerson, who had been placed on second, being thrown out at the plate. The Donovan Solano walk-off against the Los Angeles Dodgers? It came in the bottom of the 11th after the free runner had already scored three times. 

You might have hated the way some of those games ended, but there's no doubt there was more drama for the Giants in extra innings, in part because of a rule that might be brought back in future years.