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ON BASEBALL

In a sport desperate for more action, the extra-innings runner rule is just what MLB needed

Only the heartiest of a reduced crowd stuck it out until the final moments of Tuesday's Red Sox game, but the rule that puts a runner on second base to begin extra innings is shortening games and upping the action.
Only the heartiest of a reduced crowd stuck it out until the final moments of Tuesday's Red Sox game, but the rule that puts a runner on second base to begin extra innings is shortening games and upping the action.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The new extra-inning rule in Major League Baseball — starting every inning with a runner on second base — was something many baseball fans were prepared to despise when it was introduced last season. The rule feels like something better meant for a Pony League tournament in July, not the highest level of the game.

But admit it, it has grown on you. I’ve come to love it despite not wanting to at first.

The Red Sox were 6-5 winners in 12 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, and the three extra innings had far more intrigue than the nine before.

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J.D. Martinez drove a two-run double over the head of Randy Arozarena to give the Sox the win in what was a fun back-and-forth overtime session. It felt like a hockey shootout.

Matt Barnes, pitching his second inning, needed only 14 pitches to get through the top of the 10th, striking out Manuel Margot and Brandon Lowe to leave the runner stranded.

The Red Sox tried playing small ball in the bottom of the inning. Christian Arroyo fouled off a bunt trying to move Kiké Hernández over, then did the job with a ground ball to second base.

Martinez, who made a horrid baserunning mistake in the eighth inning, had a chance to win the game after Alex Verdugo was intentionally walked. But his hard ground ball was snared by shortstop Willy Adames. Xander Bogaerts then struck out.

Adames led off the 11th inning with a double to left field that gave the Rays the lead. Tanner Houck held Tampa Bay there, and that was important when Rafael Devers slapped the first pitch of the bottom of the inning into left field and drove in Bogaerts.

But the Sox were unable to push the winning run across, and the Rays jumped back ahead in the 12th. Mike Zunino moved to third on a wild pitch by Phillips Valdez and scored when Arozarena’s grounder was hit too slowly for a play at the plate.

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Martinez came up with runners on second and third in the bottom of the inning. He lined a high slider from Ryan Thompson to win the game and was mobbed by his teammates.

J.D. Martinez is chased by teammates after his game-winning hit Tuesday night.
J.D. Martinez is chased by teammates after his game-winning hit Tuesday night.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Those from the crowd of 4,682 who stuck around saw five runs score and a series of plays made with the game on the line.

“It’s fun to manage,” said Alex Cora, who believes starting innings with runners on first and second would be even better.

In December, MLB made all of the managers available to reporters via individual Zoom calls to make up for the interview sessions we usually have at the Winter Meetings.

The new rules were a topic of conversation, and nearly every manager acknowledged they liked the extra-inning format

“From a TV standpoint, I would think I’m going to stay up this little extra time to watch this because there’s a good chance this is going to end fairly quickly,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.

Even old-school managers like Don Mattingly and Bud Black said they thought it was good for the game.

Tinkering with baseball rules is always a cause for debate. The designated hitter has been around since 1973 and it still gets some fans worked up.

This is one rule that works. The runner on second forces the action instead of both teams waiting around for the other to make a mistake. Managers have to decide whether to bunt or use their best remaining relief pitchers right away.

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It also largely stops games from going deep into the night, leaving both teams exhausted the next day and needing a series of roster moves to refresh the pitching staff.

MLB will use the minor leagues to try out other new rules this season, including ones that will discourage certain shifts, and another that will encourage more base stealing by mandating pitchers step off the rubber to throw to first.

One league will try automated ball-strike calls. Down the road, there’s even talk about moving the mound back a foot to give the hitters a better chance.

My advice is to have an open mind. Putting a runner on second base in extra innings seemed like a gimmick, but there was plenty of action on Tuesday night, and that’s never a bad thing.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.