A Little-League ending to a big-league loss for Indians: Walk-Off Thoughts
Six Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians fell 3-2 in 10 innings to the Kansas City Royals Saturday, which included the introduction — at least in Cleveland — to the automatic-runner-on-second-base rule.
1. Well, that was weird. Any baseball purist will have a tough time with one of the new rules implemented by Major League Baseball, in which each team will automatically have a runner placed on second base to begin each inning after the ninth. It was put in place partly to try to finish games quicker, with teams dealing with variables related to COVID-19 and many teams playing a somewhat heavy schedule. Compared to the numerous ways MLB has tried to add pace and excitement to games, this is the one that drew the quickest criticism from some. Placing a runner who didn’t earn it on the base paths simply isn't natural for the sport.
2. Regardless of what many think of the rule, it does create some interesting scenarios that teams are feeling their way through in terms of how to strategize. Much of that strategy will change based on if teams are home or away, who is on the mound and where teams are with their lineup. For example, the Royals went aggressive to try to ensure that runner scored rather than going for a bigger inning. A sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly scored the run that turned out to be the difference. In that way, the Royals scored the winning run without notching a hit. And James Karinchak is somehow saddled with the loss despite not giving up a base runner in that inning. A pitcher’s win-loss stat continues to have very little connection to how effective he has been.
3. Although the Royals chose to simply take the go-ahead run at all costs, the Indians chose to go for the win. The tying run was already on second, and manager Terry Francona decided to allow Bradley Zimmer to swing away. He was hit by a pitch, which put the winning run on first base with nobody out. Cesar Hernandez tried to bunt to put the winning run in scoring position, but he failed to keep it fair. Still, at that point, the Indians had the top of the lineup at the plate with nobody out, the exact position they’d hope to be in on any given day. And, with the Royals aggressively playing the bunt and a force out available at third and second base, Hernandez was given the green light to swing away.
“They were extremely aggressive with what they were running with their bunt plays. So we’re a hit away from winning the game, was our thinking,” Francona said on a Zoom call. “We were OK starting out to bunt, but if you’re bunting into an out, that first baseman was so far in that that’s really difficult to convert on something like that.”
4. From there, the Indians had three consecutive ugly at-bats to end the game. More than the rule itself, the Indians swinging at pitches off the plate is what did them in. It took place for much of the day, but especially in the ninth and 10th. With runners on first and second and nobody out in the ninth, Franmil Reyes grounded out on a first-pitch slider outside the strike zone. Oscar Mercado then struck out on a ball in the dirt before Roberto Perez also struck to end the inning.
In the 10th, after Hernandez struck out, Jose Ramirez struck out on a ball above the zone. Francisco Lindor, too, struck out a ball low and inside of the zone to end the game. The Indians had runners on first and second with nobody out in both the ninth and 10th innings, and a lack of plate discipline led to them coming away with nothing both times.
“I’ve probably swung at five strikes in nine at-bats,” Lindor said on a Zoom call. “It’s on me. We shouldn’t have lost this game today. We had plenty of opportunities with guys on base today and didn’t come through. I put a lot of this loss on me.”
5. The Indians and Indians fans likely aren’t too fond of the new extra innings rule at the moment. Lindor called it “Little League-ish” but added he actually liked it. Saturday’s starter, Mike Clevinger, said he isn’t a fan of teams getting an automatic runner against some of a team’s best relievers.
“This isn’t travel ball. This isn’t Perfect Game,” Clevinger said on Zoom. “You know how hard it is to get a runner on second base off the back end of any bullpen, how incredibly hard that is? And now all of a sudden you just get a guy on second base with a guy like Karinchak on the mound. I’m not happy about it. I’m sure when other teams face the situation and this happens to them, you’re gonna get similar reactions.”
6. Considering the shorter, 60-game season, the extra-innings rule has the potential to wreak quite a bit of havoc for teams heading into a chaotic final week if a number of postseason races come down to the wire. On Saturday, the Indians dropped their first experience with the rule, though it had more to do with pitch selection than any strategic move or simply having to adapt to a new rule. But, in a way, the rule worked as it intended, considering the game ended in the 10th instead of, say, the 15th. The Indians were just on the short end.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.