DURHAM, N.C. Extra innings will have a new look in what could be baseball's last Olympic appearance.
Each team's at-bat in the 11th inning and beyond will begin with runners on first and second bases. Teams may start the 11th at any point in their batting order under format changes announced Friday by the International Baseball Federation and adopted in time for next month's Beijing Games.
Baseball and softball are making their last appearance for a while, after the International Olympic Committee voted to eliminate the sports from the 2012 London Games. Both sports are working to be reinstated for the 2016 Olympics.
Federation president Harvey Schiller said the extra-innings change was adopted to save time.
"Extra-inning contests can bring about the most exciting results for players and fans, but such circumstances also make it difficult in the context of the Olympic program," Schiller said. "We must demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee (that) not only does our game belong alongside the other great sports of the world, but our sport is manageable from a television and operational standpoint."
Under the new format, the 10th inning will be played normally. At the start of the 11th, teams will have the option of beginning at any point in the existing batting order and placing the previous two batters on base.
For example, a team that opts to lead off with its No. 3 hitter would begin with its No. 1 batter on second base and its No. 2 hitter on first with no outs.
"It's kind of the same thing (as the traditional extra-inning format)," said U.S. pitcher Jeremy Cummings of Triple-A Durham. "You just get two guys on, so more than likely, guys in the Far East will probably bunt them over. So you've got one out with guys on second and third, so that might make the bunt defense come into play a little bit more."
The 12th inning and beyond would begin where the previous lineup left off, with the two hitters ahead of the batter scheduled to lead off that inning being placed on first and second bases.
Initially, USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler was opposed to the format change, but he warmed to the idea after discussing it with general manager Bob Watson, field manager Davey Johnson and the rest of Team USA's on-field personnel.
"The traditionalist in me says, 'No way."' Seiler said. "The IOC is really managing-slash-massaging sports within the Games. We're one of those few sports that baseball people or traditionalists would say, 'We do have a tiebreaker we keep playing until the game's over.'
"But you know, in the Olympics, where you have (a) finite amount of time to get your program finished (and) the early game goes 15, 16, 17 innings, then what does that do? Television is affected, transportation is affected a lot of logistical things that we don't have to worry about on a Friday night in Durham. It's a domino (effect)."
The new rules are being tested at a youth tournament this week in Canada and will take effect for all tournaments under the federation's umbrella.