USA TODAY Sports’ Jesse Yomtov breaks down the 2019 MLB All-Star selections and snubs. USA TODAY
CLEVELAND – It is called the Futures Game because it pushes baseball’s greatest talents on a great stage , just as they are ready to make the leap to the sport’s highest level.
Yet Sunday night’s 21st rendition was apropos for perhaps a more significant reason: The very future of how the game might be played unfolded at Progressive Field.
With the game still tied after completing its scheduled seven innings, the international tiebreaker rule – which places a runner at second base to start extra innings – was activated, a pace-of-play mechanism that is in its second season across the minor leagues.
Ultimately, the game ended in a 2-2 tie , as neither club could advance its gift runner even one base (Then again, who wants to see bunting or situational hitting in an exhibition?)
Tuesday night, when the NL and AL’s varsity squads take the field in the 90th All-Star Game, that rule will kick in should the teams be tied after nine innings – and if you think that’s a longshot, consider that each of the past two games were decided in 10 innings.
Certainly, such an extreme, permanent rule change may be far off in the big leagues; its primary purpose was to preserve arms and pitching staffs in the minors.
But with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred using the minor leagues and Arizona Fall League as a petri dish for numerous initiatives – pitch clocks, limited mound visits and instant replay all debuted in those arenas – it’s safe to say It comes to trial balloons at the lower levels.
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Should Tuesday’s All-Star Game go to 10th inning and, say, NL closer Kirby Yates forced to deal with Mookie Betts placed on second base to start the 10th inning, the howls from traditionalists – fans, players and media alike – will be predictable .
But for players competing under those rules for the past two seasons? It looks more like a new normal.
“I think the whole pace-of-play thing – we all want a winner. We all want to see who wins, “says Angels Class AA outfielder Jo Adell, who made a key sliding catch to preserve the AL scoreless eighth inning. “Some games are three, three and a half, four hours long, and you add extra innings – we’ve been here every day and night. So, (fans) would get used to (the tiebreaker), for sure.
“There’s a lot of things that have been switched on baseball that they’ve kind of gotten used to.”
Sunday’s game was an illuminating peek at a rule that’s been a staple of international competition for years.
After Rangers prospect Sam Huff’s home run tied the score after seven innings, Braves outfielder Cristian Pache – who made the final out of the previous inning – was placed on second to start the top of the eighth. Class A Orioles right-hander Grayson Rodriguez was given a tall task: Remove Giants catching prospect Joey Bart, Marlins slugger Isan Diaz and Phillies prospect Alec Bohm.
Pache never budged from second: Rodriguez got Bart on a grounder to third, benefited from Adell’s sliding catch of Diaz’s blooper and retired Bohm on a hard-hit grounder to second.
“That’s big-time,” Adell said. “I’m sure he did not come to the field today and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to pitch with a runner on second, in extra innings with the game tied.’ But he was in the zone, made them hit it and we made plays. “
Rodriguez, the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft who posted to 0.88 first-half WHIP at low-A Delmarva (Md.), Says he’s “accustomed” to the rule after less than a full year of pro ball. He’s less accustomed to being the fireman, as the Futures Game was just his second pro appearance in relief.
“I feel like it can be your friend and enemy,” he said of the tiebreaker. “You just went out there and it’s almost as if you just gave up a double lead. You have to work out of it like there was any kind of runner on second base.
“I feel like there’s only as much pressure as you put on yourself. I always thought that growing up. If you do not try to do too much, keep it simple, it’s definitely doable. “
When NL reliever Luis Patino matched Rodriguez and retired his three batters, the Futures Game had its first tie, 17 years after the big league version in Milwaukee produced an 11-inning deadlock, prompting significant changes to the format.
With the tiebreaker in place and more pitchers on hand, MLB’s version will not have such a result come Tuesday.
But would you like to have the 15-inning Yankee Stadium marathon of 2008. Would fans ever accept a permanent switch in the service of pace-of-play and preserving pitchers?
“Oh, I do not know,” AL Futures manager and Hall of Famer Jim Thome said. “I do not want to be that guy. Meaning, I think doing it in a game like this puts it out there where you can kind of have an opinion on it.
“When you have a game like this and you do it, everybody will have their opinion. That’s for the higher ups to decide all that. I think you have to test it over time to see what people think about it. “
It might take time. But the next generation of stars are a lot more used to it than you’d think.
“It might be 50/50,” says Rodriguez. “I feel there’s some people in favor of it – it speeds up the game a lot.
“But some people do think it takes away from the original game of baseball. It’s not a normal thing, but it can go either way. “
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