MLB’s extra-inning ‘ghost runner’ rule could stick around

“Both fans and players like it. The clubs like it. Seems like it has legs to me,” commissioner Rob Manfred said

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Commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB could keep the rule placing a runner on second base in extra innings.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB could keep the rule placing a runner on second base in extra innings.

David J. Phillip/AP

PHILADELPHIA — Starting extra innings with a runner on second base, the rule adopted by Major League Baseball as a way to shorten games during the pandemic, might be sticking around.

“Both fans and players like it. The clubs like it. Seems like it has legs to me,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday night after announcing Game 3 of the World Series between Houston and Philadelphia had been postponed by rain. “I have a few people who email me that don’t like it.”

Home teams went 113-103 in extra-inning games this year and are 262-263 in extras since the runner on second rule started in 2020, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Home teams were 312-294 in extra-inning games from 2017-19, Elias said.

“It makes you play a different game at home than you do on the road,” Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “At home you can bunt, you can play for that one run. On the road, one run doesn’t mean that much. It can mean something, but basically they have an opportunity to tie it up, so you can go back and forth, back and forth. So you probably play for not the big inning but probably a crooked number on the road, where at home you get the last at-bat and that could be the game.”

Baseball has not used the rule during the postseason. Cleveland beat Tampa Bay 1-0 in 15 innings in the clinching Game 2 of their best-of-three American League wild-card series this year, and Houston defeated Seattle 1-0 in 18 innings to sweep their best-of-five AL Division Series.

Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said modern bullpen use caused him to favor the rule.

“You’re not going to get in a 17-, 18-inning game. The chances are slim. So that helps you with roster juggling and things like that,” he said. “You’re really stringent on pitch counts for your starters and typically they’re lower now than they were even 10 years ago.

“So when you get into one of those 17-, 18-inning games, you’re going through pretty much everybody out of your bullpen, and then you’ve got to start making player moves. And when guys have to be down 15 days and you just sent down three or four of your pitchers, you can’t bring ‘em back, then guys are coming off the roster to fill in, and you don’t want that.”

There were 216 extra-inning games in the third season of the pandemic rule of placing an automatic runner on second base in each extra frame, down from 233 last year and 78 during the shortened 2020 season. The longest game this year was Cleveland’s 7-6, 15-inning win over Minnesota in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 17. That was one inning shy of the longest in the three seasons of the rule, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 16-inning win at San Diego on Aug. 25, 2021.

Extending the rule change requires an agreement with the players’ association.

“That’s a decision for the players to make,” union head Tony Clark said Friday before the Series opener. “That’ll be one of the things that we’ve got to talk to the guys about.”

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