LOS ANGELES — Pete Alonso was in the visitors clubhouse at Truist Park in Atlanta last week when an attendant made a puzzling request: Would the New York Mets slugger take a call from Atlanta Braves skipper Brian Snitker?
“Why is the opposing manager calling me?” Alonso recalled thinking.
He quickly found out. Snitker was preparing to manage the National League All-Star squad and had an important question, based on a first-time, fan-friendly rule change.
If the score was even after nine innings in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, Snitker asked, would Alonso participate in the new tiebreaking Home Run Derby that would decide the winning team?
“I’ll be your guy,” Alonso recalled telling him. “I think it’s fun. I think it’s going to be a great event if that does happen.”
Alonso wasn’t aware of the novel format, in which three players from each league would take three swings apiece to decide the final result. He wasn’t alone in finding out what could be on deck.
“That would actually happen?” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. “This is news to me.”
Snitker also picked Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. and Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber for NL, while Houston’s Dusty Baker selected Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez and Ty France along with Houston’s Kyle Tucker for the AL.
With the Home Run Derby always popular the night before the game, Major League Baseball decided to make a slugging showcase part of the Midsummer Classic.
And no doubt, a lot of fans will now be rooting for a tie, just to see another launch of long balls.
“Are they doing that? That would be fun,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We got Pete Alonso and Ronald, so I like our chances.”
The provision paving the way to the innovation was buried in exhibit 13 of the memorandum of understanding that settled the MLB lockout in March 10.
Alonso has 24 home runs, third in the NL, and had won the Home Run Derby two straight times going into Monday’s competition.
The rules of the tiebreaker, obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, state “the manager of each league’s All-Star team shall select three players on his team’s active roster who have agreed to participate in the All-Star tiebreaker, if applicable; one alternate player from his active roster who has agreed to participate in the All-Star tiebreaker, if necessary due to injury to a tiebreaker selection; an All-Star team coach who will throw batting practice during the All-Star tiebreaker; and an All- Star team bullpen catcher who will catch during the All-Star tiebreaker.”
Play would be paused briefly after the ninth inning “to allow the grounds crew to reconfigure the field in an arrangement suitable for the tiebreaker.”
In the tiebreaker, “each player can take an unlimited number of pitches without it counting against their total swing. Players on each team may hit in any order during the All-Star tiebreaker; provided, however, the batters from each team shall alternate. “
As the visiting team, the AL would send a hitter to bat first, and players from each league would alternate.
“Once all six tiebreaker selections have completed their swings, the team with the most home runs shall be declared the winner of the All-Star Game,” the rules state. “In the event the teams have the same number of home runs following the tiebreaker, each manager shall select one tiebreaker selection to participate in another round in which the tiebreaker selection from each team takes three swings to break the tie. The aforementioned head-to -head format will continue until the tie is broken.”
The three batters picked by a league for the tiebreaker cannot be replaced unless injured or to protect player health.
The All-Star Game has gone to extra innings 13 times since it began in 1933. The last two times, it went to 10 innings in 2017 at Miami and 2018 at Washington. Teams running short on pitchers has become an issue as managers try to get most pitchers in the game by the ninth inning, and the 2002 game at Milwaukee ended a 7-7, 11-inning tie when there were no available pitchers left.
A couple years ago, MLB was set to try out the automatic runner on second base if the All-Star Game went to extra innings.
Thanks to Snitker, Alonso was ready to swing away in a new way of deciding who wins the All-Star Game.
“He had to tell me about the Home Run Derby stuff, because I didn’t know about it,” Alonso said.