Following the addition of the Ghost Runner, a fundamental change to the way regular season extra innings are handled, road teams are gifted a chance to put pressure on the home club before an at-bat has even been taken.
The rule change, shoehorned in during the 2020 pandemic season, was an obvious effort to create something akin to hockey's "shootout" so we can "move on" from contests Rob Manfred has deemed comparably meaningless to playoff games.
It's certainly more exciting to start each extra frame with a runner on second. It inserts action into potential drudgery. It also provides immediate hope to the away team and their fans. Look! You didn't do anything at all, and there's already a man in scoring position. In order to win, you'll presumably need to score him, as well as run up the score to leave the home club in dire need of a flurry of hits rather than a pair of productive outs.
Score just the Ghost Runner? You can expect to be playing the 11th. Score him and more? You have the upper hand. Score ... not at all? You just might be the 2022-23 New York Yankees, an offense that has consistently proven unable to handle the new rule changes the second they leave their own friendly confines.
These Yankees have been unsustainably great at home in these scenarios -- thanks, in large part, to Michael King, who's been a menace at keeping the free runner from scoring when he's been inserted. He handled both extra innings in last season's Opening Day win over the Red Sox and never looked back, helping the team to a remarkable 13-3 record at Yankee Stadium in these scenarios and famously escaping the 10th unscathed against the Tigers, Astros and Reds in last season's first half.
On the road? They've undone nearly the entire advantage they've created for themselves at home. Baseball's a game of small sample size luck where random variance can turn a team from a playoff hopeful to a borderline also-ran. When you're as proficient at home in extra innings as the Yankees are, it'd be real nice to at least be .500 on the road -- when the rule changes hit in 2021, the road team actually had a distinct advantage in extra innings. Instead, they've gone 2-10 in road battles, often failing to score the free runner at all and even make it interesting.
Yankees Road Extra Innings Record in 2022, 2023: 2-10
Excelling at home, flatlining on the road (where it's easier than ever not to flatline). Sounds like a team that's been .500 adjacent since last June! That's our Yankees!
New York's mastery in the Bronx in these situations does not go unnoticed, and their extra-inning fate would be far more dire if they weren't unsustainably excellent at protecting their home turf. Unfortunately, the whole benefit of being unsustainably excellent at one thing is that, if you're even average at the flip side, you'll be a great team in a great position! When you're preternaturally horrible at the opposite thing -- the occasional easier thing -- then it just helps sustain your offense's march to mediocrity.
Of those 10 extra-innings road losses since 2022, do you know how many times the Yankees even bothered to score the free runner at all?
April 15, 2022 at Baltimore: Nope (two opportunities, this one went 11)
July 9, 2022 at Boston: Yes (this was the worst game in recorded history, Verdugo got us twice)
Aug. 9, 2022 at Seattle: Nope (four opportunities [!!!], this one went 13)
Aug. 12, 2022 at Boston: Nope
Aug. 27, 2022 at Oakland: Yes, But Not in the 11th
Sept. 26, 2022 at Toronto: Nope
May 7, 2023 at Tampa Bay: Nope
May 17, 2023 at Toronto: Nope
May 31, 2023 at Seattle: Nope
June 14, 2023 at Mets: Nope
Only twice in the 10 losses has the Ghost Runner scored! He's right there! He's watching and waiting for you!
It's not difficult to discern why this frustration is peaking now. This happened six times all of last season, but has happened four times to the 2023 Yankees from May 7 to present. When you have a bugaboo, the endless grind of the 162-game season will find a way to exploit it, no matter what rules Rob Manfred puts in place to devalue that season and end games early. The Yankees put themselves in an excellent position to differentiate themselves from the pack with their uncharacteristic home dominance, but gave it all away with their inability to deliver with RISP on the road.
Anthony Rizzo's home run in Cincinnati saved them just last month, accounting for one of their two wins and leading to a final score of 7-4. The other victory was a road game last September in Boston where their 7-4 lead was whittled down to a 7-6 final. Since the start of 2022, they haven't won a road extra innings game where they've taken a one-run lead heading to the bottom of the frame. In fact, they've never taken a one-run lead in extras on the road ... at all. Multiple runs or bust, usually a loss either way.
Luckily for the Yankees, this rule change disappears when the playoffs arrive. Road extra innings games will go back to being a disadvantage for everyone in the same way they've long been a disadvantage for the Yanks. Unluckily for the Yanks, they might not clinch a playoff berth at all after undoing their momentum every time they lock eyes with a Ghost Runner in a gray uniform.