A walk-off grand slam is one of baseball’s purest moments - let’s not lose it
National League West is still the home to the best teams in baseball.
The San Francisco Giants continue to defy father time and could be the first side to 50 wins this season by the end of the week. However, right behind them, the Dodgers and the Padres are both within reach and it could make for an exciting race to the postseason.
The New York Mets have slowly manoeuvred their way to a winning record and an outright lead in the NL East, despite ace pitcher Jacob DeGrom’s niggling injuries.
In the American League West, the Houston Astros and the Oakland As are caught in a battle that sees them switch places atop the division almost daily. At the same time, the Chicago White Sox have taken a narrow lead in the AL Central.
In the AL East, the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays have switched places. The Red Sox haven't been on fire but have done enough to take a half-game lead into a series with the Rays that begins on Tuesday night.
The Rays are returning from a dire road trip out west where they lost their last six games, ending with a series sweep by the youthful Seattle Mariners who have now moved above .500 for what feels like the first time in a decade.
The weekend series was capped off Sunday night with an extra-innings walk-off grand slam, possibly the most exciting sentence in baseball.
Let me break that down for anyone who isn't sure what's so special about it.
The game had completed the regulation nine innings, and in the tenth, the home team came up to bat.
The Mariners then loaded the bases, had a player on first, second and third base before Shed Long Jr stepped up, with two outs, and sent a ball into row three of right field.
That's it. Game over. A game that seconds before is tied at two each is now in the books as a 6-2 win for the Mariners, capping their first-ever sweep of the Rays.
That one swing ended the game and added four runs.
A walk-off grand slam is one of the purest moments in baseball.
Of course, we've been starved of these moments since Major League Baseball introduced the ‘zombie runner’ rule for extra innings.
The rule was initially introduced in last year's shortened season to alleviate extra innings and avoid those rare games that stretch to 12 or even 15 innings but it was kept in place by MLB in an attempt to speed up the game to keep advertisers happy.
In doing so, they have robbed baseball of one of its most enthralling parts.
The extra innings rule allows the last person out in the previous inning to start on second base.
This ‘zombie runner’, the nickname coined by fans, provides each team with the chance to win the game without playing good baseball. It has also removed most of the tension from extra-inning games; instead, it rewards safe play.
The obvious and straightforward choice is to hit a single past the infield and the runner comes home. However, a more managed way is to move the runner to third with wise batting, a simple bunt, and then a long enough fly ball or hard enough ground ball brings the runner home.
But this takes away the joy of working a runner into a scoring position. The fun of getting a base runner and stealing a base. It makes the idea of a walk-off less deserved.
I get that it's about playing faster, bringing average game times down, and supposed player safety.
But MLB need to start realising what’s at the heart of the game. They need to leave the core untouched and make changes that don't remove drama.
We watch sport for entertainment, after all, and by removing tension, they are simply diluting the emotions.
On Sunday, Seattle gave us one of those moments, but the chances of seeing another walk-off grand slam are few and far between, and all for commercial revenues.
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