Before the season started, White Sox manager Rick Renteria let it be known he wasn’t a fan of baseball’s new extra-inning rule, the one that starts every extra inning with a runner on second base.
He was speaking without experiencing it. Now that he’s been through it, he’s got all the more reason not to like it.
“The same,” he said after Sunday’s stinger of a loss to the Cleveland Indians, asked how he felt about the rule after watching it cost his team a game.
The White Sox can point to several reasons why they walked out of Guaranteed Rate Field hurting Sunday night. They had a one-run lead after seven innings, Lucas Giolito out-dueling Shane Bieber in a phenomenal pitching matchup, and it didn’t stick. They managed just six hits on the night compared to 16 strikeouts, half of those coming in the game’s final four innings. And Jimmy Cordero gave up two runs in the top of the 10th, when the Indians started with just one rule-gifted runner in scoring position, not two. It’s that extra one that proved the difference in the final score.
But Cordero — who followed Evan Marshall and Alex Colomé, Renteria’s two highest leverage relievers now that Aaron Bummer is on the injured list, out of the bullpen — didn’t have to do much to watch a tie game turn into a two-run deficit. He gave up just one hit to the outfield, the other base knock he gave up an infield single on which Yoán Moncada couldn’t make a play. One piece of hard contact, and that was enough to make it a two-run inning.
That’s baseball, of course. Whether this new extra-inning rule is or not, that's up for debate.
The Indians started with José Ramírez on second base, and that’s where he stayed after Francisco Lindor flied out. Carlos Santana bounced the grounder at Moncada, who was ranging wide to his left and couldn’t control the ball. Had he made the play, it would have been an amazing one. In reality, he might not have got the out even had he been able to make a throw. Instead, the go-ahead run was 90 feet away, and it promptly scored on a squeeze play. Yasmani Grandal, playing first base, made a flip to James McCann at home plate, but Ramírez was flying down the base line. Perhaps no play would have beat him home.
A fly out, an infield hit and a bunt. And Cordero was losing.
The inning continued with a fielder’s choice that moved a runner to third, and that run came home when Mike Freeman lined a base hit into the outfield, the first ball to get there in the inning. The White Sox came up with their own run in the bottom of the inning, their free runner scoring, too. But a 45-minute rain delay snapped any momentum generated from the Indians trying to pitch and field in a downpour, and once the field was rung out by The Sodfather & Co., a new Cleveland pitcher finished the South Siders off.
“Yeah, that was a tough loss,” Giolito said. “You see the weird extra-innings thing come into effect there. And then a weird rain delay. It was a very strange last inning for sure, to say the least. It's unfortunate we didn't come out on top.”
Some like the zaniness of the new extra-inning rule, which is being compared to how overtime works in college football, typically an entertaining setup. Certainly it’s doing what it was intended to: bring an end to games. Without the added time of the rain delay Sunday, the 10th inning might not have been exactly swift, but it would have wrapped up faster than 11 innings or 12 or 13. And that’s the idea.
It also seems, though, like it’s just punishing for pitchers. Cordero didn’t have to do much of anything to be saddled with a couple game-deciding plays. For the most part, he did his job as he was supposed to. And still a couple of runs and an extra-inning loss.
“It’s one of those things that it’s set up to do exactly what it did, I guess,” Renteria said. “You have to deal with it. We just have to be efficient and effective.”
McCann went a step further in his discussion of why he doesn’t like this rule, pointing to a perhaps unintended consequence that could sap home-field advantage right out of the baseball rule book.
“I'm not a huge fan of it,” McCann said. “The reason for me is it changes the game a whole heck of a lot. And it actually, in my opinion, gives the away team the advantage a lot of time because in a tied ballgame in the ninth, the home team uses their closer. The away team doesn't use their closer in a tied game.
“So when you give the away team that type of an advantage, it takes away from the whole purpose of having the home-field advantage and getting the last at-bat and saving your closer.”
Not a bad point, and of course that’s exactly what happened to the White Sox on Sunday night. Renteria called on Colomé, his closer, to get through the top of the ninth and preserve a 3-all tie, and Colomé did. The Indians, waiting for a lead before they called on Brad Hand, did just that, bringing in their closer only after scoring twice in the 10th. Now, Hand wasn’t terribly effective — pitching in a watery environment looks tricky — but that’s something unique to this game, with McCann’s argument still applying when speaking generally.
Whether this rule sticks around past the unusual 2020 season remains to be seen. In a season where Major League Baseball is trying to limit the time players spend around other people, it’s a perfectly reasonable move. In a normal season, maybe not so much. But baseball seemed to be working toward bringing this to the big leagues before the COVID-19 pandemic was a thing, test driving it in the minors last season.
Renteria and McCann have both admitted themselves “old school” at times, and it was part of Renteria’s explanation for his dislike of this idea before the season started. But you don’t have to be “old school” to notice how little needs to happen for a game to be swung in one direction or another and how microscopic the margin of error is for pitchers in such a setup.
It might not have been the only reason the White Sox lost Sunday, but it certainly didn’t help.