Minor League Baseball is testing an extra-inning rule that could later be implemented at the major league level. This rule is called the International Tie Breaker.
If you’re unfamiliar with this variation of extra innings, it’s baseball’s version of the Kansas Plan, or college football overtime. The designated halves of the inning stay the same, but whichever team is at bat starts the half inning with a runner on second base and zero outs.
This format has been used in the lower tiers of baseball forever. I was on a travel ball team that won a tournament by recording three outs on two hitters with a strike ’em out, throw ’em out to end the game. That was 20 years ago this summer.
The International Tiebreaker made its debut in MiLB in the Double-A Eastern League on Thursday night. The Harrisburg Senators and Bowie Baysox played a 13-inning game that can only be rivaled by Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.
Knotted at four after nine innings, each team scored runs in the 10th and 11th innings, then the Senators plated four runs to the Baysox’s three in the 13th inning for a 10-9 win.
It’s easy to say that neither team would have scored in the first two extra frames, but hitters’ approaches at the plate would have been completely different without a runner in scoring position. An example of this is how the Baysox tied the game in the bottom of the 10th with a fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly.
With a runner already in scoring position, the hitters have a completely different approach. Rather than an approach to get base runners, the hitters are allowed to pick a spot to put the ball in play to advance the runner. A fielder’s choice is just an out with nobody on base, but it’s incredibly productive and a solid at-bat with a runner on second. The ensuing sacrifice fly is, again, just a one-out fly out with nobody on base. It scored a run in this instance.
Yes, this game went 13 innings and ran for four hours and 44 minutes, but in the four extra frames there was a total of 11 runs scored. If these teams hadn’t started with runners on second, the final would have been 7-6, at best, and innings 10-12 would have been snoozers. Starting with a runner in scoring position gives the batter more of an objective than simply getting on base or hitting a homer.
In contrast, if the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees had applied this rule, Friday night’s game likely would have ended in the 10th inning with a 5-4 Orioles win rather than extend to 14 innings with a 7-4 Orioles win.
I can hear certain people I know whispering under their breath, “No, we can’t change the game!” But the International Tiebreaker provides the excitement of overtime that comes with college football, hockey, and basketball. It brings the intensity to another level and provides more of a sudden-death feel to each inning.
Photo by Brigham Berthold