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Major League Baseball’s new rules didn’t impact scoring significantly in spring training, and oddsmakers began the season without adjusting their numbers on runs scored, while taking a wait-and-see approach to the pitch clock and elimination of the infield shift.

MLB games have averaged 9.1 runs scored over the past five seasons. Last year’s 8.57 runs per game was the lowest since 2015. Spring training games, with the new rules implemented, averaged 10.1 runs, down slightly from last year.

Pitchers have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. Hitters must be in the batter’s box with eight seconds on the pitch clock. Hitters are allowed one timeout per at-bat to reset the pitch clock. Pitchers are restricted to stepping off the rubber only twice per plate appearance, including for pickoff attempts. The rule resets if a runner advances during the same plate appearance. And larger bases are being used to increase the success rate on steals.

“We don’t really see a direct correlation from the pitch clock to more scoring,” said Randy Blum, who oversees baseball odds for the SuperBook in Las Vegas. “We were not planning on adjusting our totals off that.”

Halvor England, BetMGM’s lead baseball trader, expects the elimination of the traditional shift to increase scoring marginally, but also believes pitchers will have more control over the hitter during an at-bat because of the pitch clock.

“I think it’s going to be a little more offsetting than people realize, almost a wash,” Halvor said. “I don’t anticipate there to be less scoring overall, but on a game-to-game basis, it’s going to be very marginal.”

The bigger bases being used this season, however, are a difference-maker in bookmakers’ and bettors’ eyes. Steals were up notably in success rate and volume — nearly double from last spring training — this year. Bettors expect the trend to continue.

The SuperBook offered a season-long prop on the over/under on most stolen bases by an individual player. Blum said the book opened the total at 50.5, a number that reflected about four to five more stolen bases than if the rule had not been in place. Still, sharp bettors took the over, causing the SuperBook to move the number to 52.5.

“That’s one thing [larger bases] that we did adjust our numbers on based on the rule changes, and it seems to be something that the bettors are taking note of also,” Blum said. “That was not necessarily a prop that in the past would get a lot of attention either way.”

Joe Fortuna, a veteran professional bettor and baseball fan, said he did edge his numbers up on runs scored because of the rule changes and was looking to bet overs early in the season for multiple reasons, including potential pitchers’ fatigue while working with the pitch clock.

“These guys, in April, might be a little bit out of shape, so I don’t know if running 100 mph pitches up there every 15 seconds will make them tire out faster,” Fortuna said. “The different rules all seemed to lean toward hitting to us.”

Fortuna also examined which hitters faced the most infield shifts last season and pointed out left-handed batters like San Diego’s Juan Soto, Texas’ Corey Seager and Kansas City’s Vinnie Pasquantino as ones who could benefit from its elimination.

“The shift is huge to me,” Fortuna said. “We actually bet on Pasquantino to win MVP today at 250-1. He batted .295 last year and faced 93.8% three-man shifts. That was the highest.”

For now, only one day into the season, bettors and bookmakers will be watching closely to see if there are any trends related to the new rule changes, but early on, it’ll be a guessing game.

“There will be some advantage for bettors if they can figure it all out quicker than the market,” Halvor said.

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Mays, Negro League tributes abound at Rickwood

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Mays, Negro League tributes abound at Rickwood

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — As Ajay Stone strolled around historic Rickwood Field and gazed at tributes displayed in honor of Willie Mays and other Negro Leaguers, he clutched a cherished memory under his arm.

It was a picture from 2004 of Mays holding Stone’s then-10-month-old daughter, Haley, who was wearing San Francisco Giants gear. In Mays’ hand was a chunk of a chocolate chip cookie, which he was handing over for Haley to eat.

“Willie gave her that cookie,” Stone remembered. “She had no teeth. But we took the cookie and we kept it in her stroller for a year and a half. The great Willie Mays gave it to her, so it was special to us.”

Stone and his wife, Christina, traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to be in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday for a moment they deemed just as special.

It was hours before Rickwood Field hosted its first Major League Baseball game, with the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Giants, 6-5. The game, which MLB called “A Tribute to the Negro Leagues,” was meant to honor the legacies of Mays and other Black baseball greats who left an enduring mark on the sport.

MLB planned a week of activities around Mays and the Negro Leagues, including an unveiling ceremony Wednesday of a Willie Mays mural in downtown Birmingham. Those tributes took on a more significant meaning Tuesday afternoon when Mays died at 93. As news of his death spread throughout Birmingham, celebrations of his life ramped up.

You could hear the celebration at Rickwood Field on Thursday even before arriving: the rapid thumping of a drum echoing from inside the ballpark, excited murmurs from fans skipping toward the music and frequent bursts of laughter.

Inside, there were reminders of history all around.

There were photos and artifacts of baseball Hall of Famers who played at the 114-year-old ballpark, including Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. The original clubhouse of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, where Mays got his pro start in 1948, was open. A memorial of Mays was at the front, with bobbleheads, a signed glove and his Black Barons and San Francisco Giants jerseys on display.

Outside, fans stood in line to hold a baseball bat used by Mays in 1959. They took photos sitting inside an original bus from 1947 that was typically used during barnstorming tours by Negro Leagues teams. They danced to live music and ate food from concession stands featuring menu boards designed to reflect the look and feel of the 1940s.

Eddie Torres and his son Junior wore matching Giants jerseys as they took pictures inside the ballpark. They’re lifelong Giants fans who came from California for the game.

“I never even got to see Willie Mays play, but as a Giants fan, you knew what he meant to the game of baseball,” Torres said. “My son, he’s only 11. Willie Mays had such an effect on the game that even he knew who Willie Mays was.”

Musical artist Jon Batiste strummed a guitar while dancing on a wooden stage near home plate just before the first pitch. Fans stood as former Negro Leaguers were helped to the field for a pregame ceremony.

Shouts of “Willie! Willie!” broke out after a brief moment of silence.

For Michael Jackson, sitting in the stands at Rickwood Field reminded him of the past.

The 71-year-old Jackson played baseball in the 1970s and ’80s with the East Thomas Eagles of the Birmingham Industrial League, which was a semi-professional league made up of iron and steel workers that was an integral form of entertainment in Birmingham in the 20th century.

Jackson’s baseball journey took him to Rickwood Field many times. After all these years, he was just excited that it’s still standing.

“It’s nice seeing them redo all of this,” he said, “instead of tearing it down. We played in the same ballpark they named after Willie Mays out in Fairfield [Alabama]. And then I had my times out here playing at this ballpark. It’s all very exciting.”

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Judge returns with HR, Torres exits in Yanks loss

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Judge returns with HR, Torres exits in Yanks loss

Aaron Judge returned to the New York Yankees‘ lineup Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles and hit his major-league-leading 27th home run of the season.

Judge, playing two days after being hit on the left hand by a pitch, hit a 395-foot two-run homer to right center in the third inning off Orioles starter Cole Irvin. Judge added an RBI single in the fifth, but the Yankees were blown out 17-5 to drop the three-game series and see their lead over the Orioles in the American League East sliced to a half-game.

Judge started in center field and played seven innings before being lifted.

“It felt good,” Judge said. “There’s still some swelling, some soreness and stuff like that, especially on foul balls, but if you square it up, it feels pretty good.”

The Yankees also had second baseman Gleyber Torres exit in the fifth inning because of tightness in his right groin.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he didn’t believe Torres suffered “anything major.”

“It just started to tighten up on him, and I think just being cautious with it, kind of getting him out of there,” Boone said.

Torres committed his major-league-leading 11th error when he failed to field a grounder by Jordan Westburg in the top of the fifth. Ben Rice was on deck when his spot in the lineup came up in the bottom half. Oswaldo Cabrera moved over from third base to replace Torres, DJ LeMahieu shifted from first to third and Rice entered the game at first base.

A free agent at the end of the season, Torres has struggled this year. He hit his seventh homer in the second inning and is batting .221 with 28 RBIs.

Judge sat out Wednesday as the Yankees lost 7-6 in 10 innings.

He was struck by a 94.1 mph fastball from Baltimore starter Albert Suarez during New York’s 4-2 win Tuesday night. The slugger left the game an inning later. X-rays and a CT scan were negative, though Boone had said Judge had some swelling and discomfort.

“Playing a division rival, a must-win game to try to clinch the series,” Judge said. “So we got to be out there.”

Judge is batting .306 and also leads the majors with 67 RBIs. The 32-year-old outfielder is a five-time All-Star and was the 2022 AL MVP after hitting 62 home runs to break the AL record of 61 by Roger Maris set in 1961.

In 2018, Judge missed 45 games with a broken right wrist after he was hit by a 93.4 mph pitch from Kansas City‘s Jakob Junis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Orioles’ ‘incredible’ hitting drives rout of Yankees

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Orioles' 'incredible' hitting drives rout of Yankees

Cedric Mullins hit a two-run homer to spark a six-run second inning, Gunnar Henderson reached base four times, and the Baltimore Orioles knocked out rookie pitcher Luis Gil early in a 17-5 rout of the New York Yankees on Thursday.

On a 90-degree day, the Orioles improved to 5-2 against the Yankees and have now gone unbeaten in 22 straight series against American League East opponents, a major league record. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Orioles surpassed the mark set by the Atlanta Braves (1998-2000) and Cincinnati Reds (1975, 1969-1970).

The 17 runs also marked rare success for the Orioles against the Yankees. It was their second most in a road game against New York and tied for the third most overall, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They scored 18 in a nine-win run in the Bronx in June 1986.

“Really proud of how our guys went in this series. The way we came out and swung the bats today, that was incredible,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. “So many hard-hit balls there early, just really, really good at-bats.”

Baltimore also improved to 19-7 against the AL East this season and 51-27 since the start of last season.

“I don’t know what kind of statement we’re making,” Hyde said. “I know teams think we’re a good team, and our record shows it and the way we’ve been playing against our division and how we’ve been playing baseball in the last couple of years.”

Henderson doubled twice among his three hits to extend the majors’ longest active on-base streak to 27 games and his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games. He also added an RBI groundout in the sixth.

Ryan Mountcastle had a bases-clearing double and an RBI single in the ninth off New York catcher Jose Trevino. Anthony Santander hit a three-run homer for his MLB-best 10th home run this month as the Orioles moved to within a half-game of first-place New York.

Ryan O’Hearn added an RBI double and drove in four runs, while Austin Hays hit a two-run homer in the seventh as the Orioles collected 19 hits and scored their most runs since an 18-5 win at Cleveland on June 6, 2021.

“I’m really proud of our guys not buying into too much that comes from outside noise and things like that,” O’Hearn said.

Gleyber Torres hit a solo home run before exiting with a groin injury and Aaron Judge hit his major league-leading 27th homer by lining a two-run shot in the third off Baltimore starter Cole Irvin. Judge also had an RBI single in his return from a one-game absence after getting hit on the left hand in New York’s 4-2 win Tuesday.

But the Yankees lost back-to-back series for the first time this season.

“They’re about as formidable as there is, and the first couple of series, they’ve had their way with us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “They’ve had the upper hand.”

Irvin allowed five runs and five hits in 4⅔ innings. Bryan Baker (1-0) relieved him and was credited with the win.

Gil allowed seven runs and eight hits in a career-low 1⅓ innings.

“They got after him today and didn’t miss some heaters in the center of the plate,” Boone said. “That’s been uncommon.”

Henderson opened the game with a double over right fielder Juan Soto‘s head and scored on O’Hearn’s two-strike single. Mullins blasted a slider into the right field seats for a 3-0 lead, and Mountcastle chopped a double past third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera down the left field line to make it 6-0.

After Torres and Judge connected, Santander went deep in the fifth off Tim Hill, who signed with the Yankees before the game.

Gil’s short outing ended New York’s streak of 76 straight starts of at least four innings to start the season. It was the seventh-longest streak in baseball and the longest in the American League since the Chicago White Sox did it in the first 89 games of 2006.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Orioles: OF Colton Cowser did not start after being plunked on the elbow pad Wednesday. … 3B Jordan Westburg went 2-for-5 after sitting out Wednesday because of left hip discomfort.

Yankees: OF Jasson Domínguez will miss at least eight weeks with a strained left oblique. He was injured on a check swing during a game for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez (8-2, 3.20 ERA) opposes RHP Jake Bloss in the opener of a three-game series at Houston.

Yankees: LHP Carlos Rodón (9-3, 3.28) faces Atlanta LHP Chris Sale (9-2, 2.98) in the opener of a three-game interleague series Friday in the Bronx.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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