The Connecticut Tigers experienced about as bad a night Tuesday as a baseball team can.
They suffered two frustrating walkoff losses, and in the second one they lost a no-hit bid and the game all at once, with help from baseball’s much-maligned experimental extra-innings rule.
Connecticut, a Tigers affiliate in the New York-Penn League (short-season Single-A), was playing the Vermont Lake Monsters, an A’s affiliate, in what was essentially a doubleheader. The teams’ game Monday was suspended in the top of the first inning because of rain, so they had to complete that contest first Tuesday and then play the regularly scheduled game, which was shortened to seven innings.
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Connecticut tied the suspended game in the top of the eighth, only to have Vermont score in the bottom of the ninth on a bases-loaded walk and claim a 5-4 victory. Vermont had filled the bases on a triple and two walks after the first two batters of the inning had been retired.
By the end of Game 2, that loss seemed almost routine.
Connecticut pitchers Jack O’Loughlin (four) and Billy Lescher (three) held Vermont hitless for the first seven innings of the “nightcap.” O’Loughlin, an 18-year-old native of Australia, was making his U.S. professional debut. He allowed just one baserunner (he hit Robert Mullen with a pitch — more on Mullen in a second) and struck out five.
Because the contest had been shortened to seven innings, the eighth became the first extra inning. Enter the experimental rule.
Beginning this year, all extra innings in the minors start with a runner at second base and none out. Connecticut stranded its runner in the top of the eighth after three consecutive strikeouts. In the bottom of the eighth, Vermont, still hitless, got runner Javier Godard to third base with one out against reliever Aaron Fernandez. The next batter, Mullen, singled home Godard.
Two walk offs in one night…that’s just how we do things around here ? pic.twitter.com/bx7O6gu2zS
— VermontLakeMonsters (@VTLakeMonsters) June 20, 2018
No-hitter over. Shutout over. Ballgame over (at 12:37 a.m. ET Wednesday). A tough double defeat.
First hit and first run of Game 2 by Vermont secure a second walkoff win to sweep the doubleheader, 5-4 in 9 innings and 1-0 in 8 innings. 6 hours and 1 minute of baseball in Burlington tonight. #EarnYourStripes pic.twitter.com/6TrN27JCMZ
— Connecticut Tigers (@thecttigers) June 20, 2018
Major League Baseball is using the minors as a laboratory for the extra-innings rule, which is intended to end games faster and keep teams from overusing pitchers. Opponents of the rule consider it too drastic a change to how the game is usually played.
On Tuesday, the rule helped to deliver a second dose of heartbreak to a team and give young Mr. O’Loughlin the kicker to a story he can tell the rest of his life.