Rob Manfred’s goofy automatic runner rule was supposed to prevent games like the one the Dodgers and Padres played Wednesday night (and Thursday morning) in San Diego. The two teams needed 16 innings, played over the course of nearly six hours, before the Dodgers won one of the most epic games of the 2021 season.
While starting extra innings with a runner in scoring position has proven to be an effective way of bringing games to a swift end, the Dodgers and Padres couldn’t manage to scratch across a run until the 15th. It was the first game since the automatic runner rule was implemented last season to go past 13 innings.
The failure to score made for some incredible drama. The pitchers could hardly contain themselves whenever they recorded an out to escape the rulebook-manufactured jam.
The game might have come to an end sooner if the Padres hadn’t run out of position players and been forced to send pitcher Joe Musgrove to the plate as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded in the 11th, but that’s the way National League baseball goes.
The Dodgers finally broke the tie in the top of the 15th with a single by pinch hitter Billy McKinney.
Then Trea Turner drove in another run to stretch the lead to two.
At that point, the Padres hadn’t picked up a hit since all the way back in the sixth inning, so a two-run lead seemed insurmountable. But Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a two-run homer that barely cleared the right field wall to send the game to a 16th inning.
That’s when AJ Pollock hit a two-run homer to put the Dodgers back on top.
And Shane Greene closed the door in the bottom of the 16th, at 12:59 a.m. PT, to finally bring the game to an end.
As unnatural as the automatic runner rule is, implementing it for a compressed 2020 season that was bound to feature lots of doubleheaders was probably a good idea. Whether it needed to stay in place this season, when there have been far fewer COVID-19-related postponements, is a different question, but at least Manfred has said the automatic runner and seven-inning doubleheaders are not here to stay.
As long as they occur infrequently, games like Wednesday night’s are one of the things that makes baseball fun. No one wants to watch (or play in) a 16-inning marathon every couple of weeks, but it’s a treat for fans to enjoy the occasional game that seems like it’ll never end—and it seems like it’s extra rewarding for players to win long games.
“You can listen to the excitement, elation after the game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters. “A lot of high-fives, maybe a couple of beer showers, guys really just on adrenaline. Just finding a way to win a ballgame. It should count as two but unfortunately it doesn’t.”
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