NEW BRITAIN - After New Britain Bees first baseman Jason Rogers smashed a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Friday’s home opener against the Somerset Patriots, he grabbed his glove and cap, trotted up the dugout steps to take his position in the field, then caught a glimpse of Somerset’s Will Kengor trotting out toward second base to start the 10th inning.
For the briefest of moments, Rogers wasn’t sure what was happening. But per the Atlantic League’s new rules, Kengor was the last batted out in the Patriots’ half of the ninth inning, meaning he would take second base to begin the frame, representing an immediate scoring chance.
“I kind of forgot about that new rule,” Rogers said with a laugh after the game.
Friday night’s marathon contest represented the first extra-innings affair for either team in the season, a game Somerset claimed in 10 innings, as Kengor was immediately driven in from second on an RBI double in a 7-5 victory. Just 24 hours later, the two teams were back at it again, battling through a new-look extra-innings chess match after the Bees once again tied it with a home run in the ninth, this one coming off the bat of Jonathan Galvez.
In an encore performance, the Patriots scored two runs in the 10th, winning 5-4 after the Bees couldn’t complete another comeback. New Britain, which hadn’t experienced this new style of high leverage innings before this season, has now found itself trying to win in a new way twice in the team’s first two home games of the season and again on the road on Wednesday, which has been an adjustment in the early going.
“It’s just getting the guys in the right mode,” manager Mauro Gozzo said. “Some of them weren’t too sure what it’s all about, but it’s the same for both teams.”
Like Gozzo, the Bees weren’t making excuses for the pair of losses in 10 innings. The situation may be unfamiliar, but the goal is the same: build or maintain a lead to secure a win.
“That’s the way the game is going,” said Jovan Rosa before he was signed out to join the Mexican League. “I don’t have an opinion on it. It was the same way for us as it was for them. We had the same opportunity, but we just didn’t make it happen.”
Still, adjustments need to be made, as Gozzo and the Bees learned on Friday and Saturday night. The new extra innings rule doesn’t only cause an adjustment in the field, when a pitcher is immediately staring at a runner in scoring position. Adjustments are also made at the plate, when decided how aggressive to be with a runner on second base, who may represent either the tying or game-winning run, or just an opportunity to chip into a lead.
“Strategy becomes a little different when you have a one or two run deficit,” Gozzo said. “Obviously, we were very careful with that runner on second [on Friday, down two runs], even when a base hit could have scored him. You have to figure out a way to at least play for the tie.”
The Bees will continue to adjust as the season moves along. The new rules are strange territory, but they also are for the rest of the Atlantic League. For now, the Bees can be grateful to already have multiple games of experience under their belt, and improve from there.
“We have to strategize for that now,” Rogers said. “We’ll figure it out and get it going.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org