MIAMI — If a game is tied after nine innings in spring training, the managers usually motion to each other from across the field that they’ve had enough and the game ends in a tie.
The Cubs played three ties this spring in Arizona, and no one paid a bit of attention.
Then came the start of the regular season, and naturally the Cubs and Marlins went 17 innings in their second game Friday night at Marlins Park, with the Marlins winning 2-1 on Miguel Rojas’ walk-off, RBI single off Brandon Morrow.
A game like that can take its toll on players, and not just relievers like the Cubs’ Eddie Butler, who pitched seven dominant innings only to get charged with the loss in the 5-hour, 18-minute marathon.
No one was ready for this.
“We’re kind of used to playing six innings now,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said, referring to the regulars typically getting pulled well before the end of spring training games.
“What was today? Seventeen? It is what it is. I think a lot of guys really battled. Eddie did unbelievable. Can’t say enough about him and what he really meant to us today.
“I know we lost, but a lot of really big things came from this game.”
Major League Baseball has tossed around the idea of trying to end potential marathon games with a new rule that would add base-runners without the benefit of a hit or a walk.
The potential rule states that if the game is still tied after the 10th inning, both teams start the 11th with runners on first and second base. The idea is to improve the chances of teams scoring a run and breaking the tie, thus ending the game relatively quickly without over-extending the bullpens.
The rule was used in the World Baseball Classic last year, and some believe it should be used in the majors to quicken the pace and save pitching staffs.
“That was the perfect game for it, obviously,” Bryant said with a laugh. “I don’t know. I think the whole pace of play thing is pretty silly at times. But hey, if you want to put a runner on second base, we would’ve loved it today.”
Manager Joe Maddon considers himself a traditionalist when it comes to changing the basic structure of the game. Fewer relievers are used for multiple innings in this era, especially at this point of the season, so teams can run out of pitchers quickly in an extra-inning game.
Should putting men on base to start the 11th be looked at more seriously?
“I know that’s going to really be talked about,” Maddon said. “I’ve always been a purist with all this. As a manager when you’re sitting in a situation with a beat-up bullpen, it’s no fun. But I also believe that’s the anomaly game. I think it’s part of the grind of the season. It’s part of testimony to the depth of your team.
“I know there’s going to be conversation after this. I know right now you wish the rule was in place tonight, but overall I’m still a traditionalist with that.”
One reason games can keep going on and on is that hitters strike out more frequently than in past eras, hurting their team’s chance of manufacturing a run. Cubs hitters struck out 20 times against Marlins pitching, which was still shy of the franchise record of 26, set last May 7 at Wrigley Field in an 18-inning game against the Yankees.
“They got us in the end, but we’ve got to do better than those 20 punchouts, too,” Maddon said.