The Clearwater Threshers won a doubleheader last night thanks to the “free runner rule” used in extra innings this season in minor league baseball. The wins were big as they moved to within one and half games of first place Dunedin Blue Jays in the Northern Division for a playoff spot in the Florida State League.
The new rule was added at the start of the minor league season where extra innings start with a runner on second base until the game is decided. The player who made the last out in the final inning of regulation of the tied game becomes the designated runner. In the beginning of the season it seemed team’s would try to sacrifice bunt to get a runner on third with one out. Getting the sac. bunt down was always iffy.
Last night neither team bunted in the extra inning. The Threshers were successful in moving the runner third on a ground out and in the second game they moved the runner on a ground out error which put runners at first and third and no outs. In both cases they managed to score a run to go into the bottom half of the inning up by a one.
The key to both wins then was preventing the Tampa from moving the free runner to third for an easy score to tie up the game again.. In the first game the Threshers kept closer Addison Russ in for his second inning. He struck out the first two batters. The free runner remained at second. The next batter walked and the third out came on a line out to center for a 4-3 win.
In the second game the Tampa starter was perfect through seven innings retiring all 21 batters he faced. In the extra inning, the Threshers managed to score without the benefit of a hit off of a reliever.
Alberto Tirado came on in the bottom half of the extra innings and struck out the first batter he faced. He then got the next two batters out on a fly out to center where the runner on second did not advance and an infield line out to end the game.
This may have been the first time a team won a doubleheader with the benefit of the “free runner” rule. Now, that the managers are not attempting to bunt to start the extra inning, the key seems to be to have a pitcher who can rely on his sing and miss stuff to shut down the other team. Russ has struck out 25 in 21 innings and Tirado has struck out 21 in 24.1 innings for the Threshers.
MLB had hoped to have a similar rule for spring training but the players’ union objected. Read HERE.