- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Extra Extra?

Baseball’s decision to use Sunday afternoon games as platforms to test its new extra inning rules is a little baffling. I thought the whole idea was to not let games go on all night, with the implication being night games were the issue. If there’s a segment of the week when a fan doesn’t have to choose between staying to the end or getting home in time for a decent interval of sleep, it would seem to be Sunday afternoon. But Rob Manfred wants to ease the new rules in slowly, and maybe this is the way to do it, almost under the radar (which explains why the test doesn’t extend to Sunday Night Baseball).

As a Mets fan, my impulse is to inform Manfred and his thugs that they can have my extra innings when they pry them from my cold, drowsy fingers. We are the franchise of the 23-inning game, the 24-inning game, the 25-inning game and Fireworks Night at four in the morning. We win 20-inning games, lose 20-inning games and make Keith Hernandez sigh for 18 innings. The Mets’ 2017 peaked in the sixteenth inning in Miami last April. The Mets’ 1986 peaked in the sixteenth inning in Houston that October (and peaked anew nine nights later in another extra inning at Shea). Ours are marathon Mets.

Yet I’m really and truly trying to see the point of limiting extra innings [1]. Take a look around the ballpark when the clock strikes ten, so to speak. As Joe Garagiola liked to say, it’s like somebody’s selling fire. Sticking around to conclusion after regulation seems anathema in some circles. The diehards die hard. The rest seek rest in quest of living a longer life. A longer life without seeing every out may not be one worth surviving, but priorities differ, even among baseball’s constituents.

So we come to this, the Sunday afternoon experiment, starting today everywhere there’s a ballgame, including Citi Field. If the Mets have beaten the Cardinals once more [2] in nine, we won’t see any difference. If the opposite occurs, well, nothing to see here, folks, move along. Ah, but if the game is still tied, how — as they’ve been saying around Seder tables — will this late afternoon be different from all other late afternoons?

At first, it won’t be. MLB will play tenth innings as it always has. Regular baseball. Go ahead in the tenth while your opponent doesn’t score, you win. Now you can go home.

But if not? Oy vey. Hold on to your matzoh…

In the eleventh, we get that whole weird scheme in which the half-inning begins with the runner from the last out of the last inning on second. It was supposed to be a minor league deal only [3], but one thing led to another on the competition committee (co-chaired by Sandy Alderson, not incidentally), and here we are. Talk about short attention span theater. Yet they swear they’ve done research and this is what people want. Anything to keep it tight and get it over.

If, after eleven innings, the tie has not been broken, they go to the Twelfth Inning Doubles Derby, sponsored by Doublemint Gum [4]. This is the inning where you have to double to reach base and then double to score the runner. Two of the three defensive outs in both half-innings have to be turned on double plays. What I don’t understand is why you’re not rewarding the team that can score a runner from second on a single. Or penalizing a pitching staff that loads the bases and walks in what would have been the winning runs. Under this facet of the plan, nothing matters but doubles and, to a certain extent, double plays. Then again, I’m forgetting that this is sponsored by Doublemint. I can’t imagine the Twins won’t have a built-in advantage.

Should the doubles not fall into place, we move on to the Lucky Thirteenth. MLB’s style guide insists we capitalize Lucky Thirteenth, since Powerball is the title sponsor [5]. (After all these years of casino-themed clubs and commercials, a lottery tying into baseball is the logical next step.) Not surprisingly, anything attached to something called Powerball is going to involve home runs. But it’s so complicated. One hitter has to homer to a certain section of left, another one can only go to right. If a player wearing an odd-numbered jersey hits straight away to center, his team loses a run. Good luck explaining that to Nimmo.

When that doesn’t work (and I don’t know how it will), the fourteenth inning will be the Quiznos Quiz Inning. One pitcher, one position player and one coach will have to answer a series of questions on baseball and sandwich history transmitted by the replay officials in Chelsea. I don’t even know if we have many Quiznos [6] around here anymore, but I guess they’re big in the Midwest. Answers will have the legal force of singles, outs, that sort of thing. Each manager gets a challenge. If one team “scores a delicious run,” as the press release puts it, the other team will have to “add a topping.” Somehow this is supposed to be faster than a regular fourteenth inning. Essentially, they’re turning the greatest game ever invented into a game show. Plus I fear it will make me hungry. I was into them briefly.

Surveys MLB cites say fans don’t like fifteenth innings, so if the game is tied after the Quiznos Quiz Inning in the fourteenth, it will skip directly to the sixteenth inning, where they’ll replay the eighth inning. (The surveys allegedly say the eighth is consistently the most popular of all innings.) Whoever batted, whoever pitched, whatever the temperature was in the domed and retractable roofed stadiums in the eighth will all go into effect again, and the teams will try to recreate or improve upon what they did eight innings earlier. I don’t know how they’re going to account for the outdoor climate in Flushing, especially early in the season when it only gets colder the later it gets.

The seventeenth inning is when they bring out the soccer goals, the basketball hoops, the thoroughbreds. Maybe the hockey rink left over from the Winter Classic. Whichever sport each team chooses to play in its half-inning “at bat” will be played. Runs will be calculated on a prorated scale from however scoring is tabulated in those other endeavors. The idea is that fans are losing interest in baseball because it’s not fast enough, so they’ll inject faster sports into baseball. (Tim Tebow could actually come in handy once in a blue and orange moon.)

If we’re still tied after seventeen, each team is awarded a point. The points will serve as playoff tiebreakers and help determine draft order. Joe Torre, when he was on the FAN the other day [7], said the commissioner doesn’t expect many games to get that far without resolution, but added, “new and innovative ways are being developed to create both natural tension and effect prompt endings to games that go eighteen innings or longer, which we and our customers don’t necessarily view as desirable outcomes.” I don’t even know what the hell that’s supposed to mean. But despite having just entered my fiftieth season as a baseball fan, I don’t seem to know much.

They could just play baseball like they always do, but that may not be how today goes down [8]. I guess we’ll see where we are after nine.

Innings, that is. Or o’clock. Whichever comes first.