The 2020 MLB season will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Compared to past seasons, 2020 will be almost unrecognizable, featuring, among other stark changes, a condensed 60-game schedule, empty stadiums, expanded 16-team playoffs, an exiled Toronto Blue Jays team (who regrettably chose Buffalo over the far superior Hartford as its new temporary residence), an injured Clayton Kershaw (okay, maybe that’s not new) and, strangest of all, a new format for extra innings.
It’s the latter twist that’s driving baseball purists up a wall, and understandably so. Beginning extra innings with a runner on second, though logical in some respects (already months behind schedule, the last thing MLB needs are endless, extra-inning games being played at all hours of the night), feels more like a gimmick than a true solution. While the minor leagues installed this rule years ago in an effort to speed up games, that doesn’t make its implementation at the major-league level any less jarring.
It didn’t take long for MLB to debut its polarizing new wrinkle with Friday night’s opener in Oakland going the distance. The A’s and visiting Los Angeles Angels played to a 3-3 tie through nine, prompting the first bonus baseball of 2020. Shohei Ohtani, who struck out to end the ninth, made history by becoming the first player to start an inning on second base. The former AL Rookie of the Year wasn’t on the base-paths for long, however, getting caught in a rundown at third for the inning’s first out. The Halos wound up loading the bases off Burch Smith but couldn’t finish the job as Andrelton Simmons ended the threat by rolling a weak, inning-ending grounder to second base.
After the Angels left them loaded in the 10th, the A’s responded in emphatic fashion, walking it off in the bottom half of the frame on a one-out grand slam courtesy of first baseman Matt Olson. According to STATS, Olson is just the third player to launch a walk-off grand slam on Opening Day, joining the likes of Jim Presley and Sixton Lezcano, who both accomplished their feats in the 1980s.
“It definitely is interesting,” Olson told the Associated Press of his first extra-innings experience under the league’s new rules. “I think it would be a lot tougher to go to 17 or 18-inning games with a guy on second. You'd think at some point somebody's probably going to get a knock.”
Strap in, folks. Baseball in 2020 is only going to get weirder.