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HR derby to replace extras in Pioneer League

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While Major League Baseball has been experimenting with extra innings rule changes in recent years, the Pioneer League — an independent league designated as an MLB Partner League — is taking things a step further.

On Tuesday, the league announced that it will implement a first-of-its-kind “Knock Out” rule that will resolve games tied after nine innings with a sudden death home run derby.

“Under the rule, each team designates a hitter who receives five pitches, with the game determined by the most home runs hit,” said a press release announcing the rule changes. “If still tied after the first ‘Knock Out’ round, another hitter is selected for a sudden-death home run face-off until a winner is declared.”

In addition to the Knock Out home run derby, the league is also experimenting with a designated pinch hitter rule, allowing a player to be pinch hit for before returning to their defensive position for the remainder of the game. Additionally, a designated pinch runner rule allows an eligible rostered player to be pinch run for before returning to their designated defensive position for the remainder of the game.

While the Pioneer League is a partner league with Major League Baseball, there is no official tie with MLB officially experimenting with these potential rule changes. MLB previously announced a partnership with the independent Atlantic League to test rule changes, including moving the pitching rubber back a foot and a double-hook rule where a team will lose its designated hitter when it removes a starting pitcher.

MLB also recently instituted rule changes at the minor league level including bigger bases, regulations of the shift and forcing pitchers to step off the rubber completely before throwing to a base.

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Royals manager Mike Matheny calls for ‘accountability’ after game-ending call stands

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CHICAGO — Add Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny to the list of people who have questioned motives behind video replay.

Matheny was on the wrong end of a review in the bottom of the ninth inning of his team’s game against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

With two outs in a 3-3 tie, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu came home on a wild pitch from reliever Wade Davis. Catcher Cam Gallagher retrieved the ball and went to tag Abreu, who slid in on the third base side of home plate. He was called safe on the field and the review upheld the call, which gave the White Sox a 4-3 win.

Replays showed Gallagher may have tagged Abreu on his jersey before he reached the plate.

“If we’re going to use video replay, there needs to be some accountability,” Matheny said after the loss. “I walked in here and had two different camera angles with this guy out. Tagged before he ever touched the plate. Very obvious. I don’t know what they’re doing, backing each other up, whatever it is. It’s wrong.”

Plays can only be overturned if video review shows a conclusive reason for it. Umpires in New York made the call with the umpires in Chicago on a headset — as is the norm. Anything short of a definitive angle to overturn a ruling means the call on the field stands.

“They have the opportunity to take that much time, and from appearances, it looks like they don’t want to bring them [the players] back onto the field while they’re here with this crowd,” Matheny said. “It’s just wrong and something has to be done about it.”

The Sox were down 3-2 going into the ninth. They tied the score on a Yoan Moncada RBI single but Moncada was eventually thrown out at the plate by Whit Merrifield on a base hit to right by Yermin Mercedes. That sent Abreu to third after he was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning. Then Davis threw the wild pitch, bringing Abreu home.

“They said he was safe,” White Sox right-fielder Adam Eaton said. “They even got replay. I had a pretty good view of it. Bang, bang play. Heck of a slide by Jose. We’ll definitely take it.”

Matheny disagreed: “You could see the jersey move when he tagged him on the body.”

The result of the play meant the Sox and Royals split their four-game series.

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Shane Bieber’s record strikeout streak ends, as Seattle Mariners chase Cleveland Indians ace early

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SEATTLE — Shane Bieber‘s record strikeout streak ended Sunday when the Seattle Mariners sent the Cleveland ace to an early exit.

Bieber had fanned at least eight in 20 straight games. But the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner fell just short against the Mariners, striking out seven in 4 2/3 innings.

Bieber left trailing 3-0 with the bases loaded in his shortest outing of the season.

The 25-year-old right-hander leads the majors with 92 strikeouts. Bieber started the season with 10 or more strikeouts in his first four outings, another major league record.

The last time Bieber didn’t strike out at least eight in a regular-season game was his final start of the 2019 season. He struck out seven last year in a playoff start against the Yankees.

Bieber allowed a run in the first inning Sunday. In all of 2020, he allowed only one run in the first inning.

In the series finale, Cleveland is attempting to gain a split of the four games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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With game on line, and a slump to end, Los Angeles Angels rely on Shohei Ohtani’s Fenway feat

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BOSTON — Shohei Ohtani stepped to the plate, trying to keep his slumping team in the game.

He did more than that, delivering what he called the most important home run of his four-season career in the majors.

Ohtani hit a two-out, two-run drive in the ninth inning and the Los Angeles Angels rallied past the Boston Red Sox 6-5 Sunday, ending a four-game losing streak.

“Coming off a losing streak and the first two games of the series, the way we lost, it wasn’t a good way to lose,” Ohtani said through a team interpreter. “So, it was huge for us and the team to come up with this. We showed that we can beat any team.”

Boston closer Matt Barnes (1-1) retired the first two batters in the ninth before giving up a bloop single to Mike Trout.

Ohtani followed with his major league high-tying 12th home run, tucked just inside the Pesky Pole in right field. It was Ohtani’s second homer of the series and stopped Boston’s three-game winning string.

“I personally think he’s the most physically gifted baseball player that we’ve ever seen,” Barnes said.

“I don’t know that you’re ever going to see someone who can throw 100, 101 and hit the ball 600 feet. He’s a special player and incredibly talented. Hopefully, he stays healthy and has a long career,” he said.

It’s been a long time since the Angels have enjoyed that kind of late drama. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the last Angels player to hit a go-ahead home run with the Angels down to their final out was Hank Conger on Aug. 31, 2013. It’s just the fourth such homer by an Angels player over the past 20 seasons.

Raisel Iglesias (2-2) pitched a scoreless eighth and Mike Mayers recorded his second save of the season.

Drew Butera‘s two-run single capped a four-run second off Nathan Eovaldi that put the Angels ahead 4-0.

Rafael Devers hit a three-run drive and Kevin Plawecki hit his first homer in a four-run fifth that gave Boston a 5-4 lead.

Eovaldi allowed four runs with six strikeouts in five innings. Angels starter Jose Quintana gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings, striking out seven.

Ohtani’s next pitching start has been pushed back a day, to Tuesday against Cleveland, because of fatigue. The Angels will travel back home and open a 10-game homestand Monday against those Indians.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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