Hi friends. Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, August 26. In spite of all MLB has done to deprive the fans of fun extra-inning games, there was a crowd-pleasing 16-inning marathon last night in Los Angeles. The Dodgers beat the Padres 5—3 in a game the Padres had tied at 3 with 2 runs in the last of the 15th. Upper management in the MLB office must be having ten thousand fits.
The movement to where we are now began in the summer of 2017, before the terms “Covid” and “social distance” were part of the language. In that peaceful, normal summer, there was a 20-inning game in the Northwest League on the 4th of July, and a 21-inning game in the South Atlantic League just 9 days later. The wheels turned during the offseason. When minor league play began in 2018, the now infamous “ghost runner” was placed on second base to start every half inning of extra innings. The idea was that fewer super marathon games would be easier on pitchers and would provide a quicker ending to the game. In the minors at least, the plan seemed to work. I haven’t heard of a minor league game eclipsing 13 innings since the 2018 season began.
Then came Covid and social distancing. For reasons that still leave most fans scratching their heads, the rule that was bad news for the minors would be applied in major league baseball. All during 2020 and this year, with every half inning of extra innings, the “ghost runner” or “mystery runner” is placed on second base. Again, that seemed to make the people in the home office happy, if nobody else.
Then came last night’s game at Chavez Ravine. The Padres looked like the team everybody thought they would be coming out of the gate. Meantime, the Dodgers looked like … well, the Dodgers. Walker Buehler didn’t take a day off, but neither did his mound opponent, Blake Snell. It was a 1—1 tie when they left, and in spite of ghost runners every half inning, it was still a 1—1 tie as the 15th inning began near Midnight. Both teams emptied the swollen bull pens that are now common in baseball. Daniel Camarena was the Padres’ 9th pitcher, truly the last man standing. The Dodgers were on their 8th hurler when the Padres cried “Uncle.”
The Dodgers used small ball to break the tie in the 15th. Chris Taylor was the ghost runner. Will Smith-who had homered in the 8th-singled. The two pulled off a double steal, (how old-world can you get?) and singles by Billy McKinney and Trea Turner made it a 3-1 Dodgers’ lead. The Padres on their mettle tied the game in the home half. With Victor Caratini serving as the ghost runner, Fernando Tatis JR. broke out of an 0-for-6 torpor and launched one over the distant fence to tie it. The Dodgers turned to the MLB 2021 paradigm in the 16th. With the ghost runner on second, AJ Pollock hit one the distance, a blast the Padres had no answer for.
The homestanding Friars, who had been hitting .202 in their last dozen games went 4 for 52 in this one. Their only safety after the fifth inning was the Tatis’ home run which temporarily tied the game. Blake Snell pitched longer than in any other game in his career, which says a lot about baseball since, say 2015. He got one out in the 8th before Smith’s home run leveled the game. Snell will be 29 this December and has been at the top level since 2016, with a 48—35 record. In 2018 he won every award the league had to offer-and never saw the 8th inning. Tom Seaver would just be getting warmed up by the 8th inning. So would Randy Johnson or Jack Morris. Though he had never been seriously injured, His team showed no confidence in him during the last postseason-repeatedly removing him early. The worst example was when he was dominating the Dodgers and was pulled although he hadn’t thrown 75 pitches. The Dodgers feasted on the Rays’ bull pen and won the World Series. He might as well have called the moving company there and then. He was headed west by New Year’s Eve, traded to the Padres for very little.
While his 6-5 record and 4.58 ERA don’t stand out, his 149 strikeouts in 114 innings do. The Dodgers saw the Snell they could not conquer in the last World Series. The Padres, who haven’t been hitting anybody were totally lost against Walker Buehler who looked either like a Cy Young winner or the old Cyclone himself. His record remains at 13—2, and his already small ERA shrunk like a cotton t-shirt in the dryer. It now stands at 2.02, best in his league. His closest challenger is Corbin Burnes of the Brewers at 2.30. Buehler’s ERA makes his teammate Max Scherzer appear generous with a 2.65, fifth in the circuit.
Along with 7-inning doubleheader games, we can all hope the madness of the “ghost runner” can at least leave the majors, if not leave baseball entirely. It took 4 years, but two teams finally played an old-fashioned marathon, no matter what silly rules the head office put in to try to prevent it.0