At long last, has baseball finally found a way to significantly shorten games? If Tuesday night is indication, that answer may indeed be yes.
While the night’s two LCS games took an average of more than 3 hours, 4 minutes to complete, the Arizona Fall League contest between the Surprise Saguaros and Salt River Rafters reportedly clocked in at a dizzying 2:14.
Adam Wainwright, James Shields and Madison Bumgarner — you’re on the clock?
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The AFL is testing the new MLB Pace of Game Committee’s tools for speeding up games, and Tuesday night’s contest in Scottsdale featured the bulk of them — a 20-second pitch clock, a 2-minute, 5-second limit between half-innings, and a limit of three meetings on the mound per team for the entire game. Along with the quicker pace, the new tools had some other noteworthy impacts, beyond the five clocks in players’ line of sight so they knew how long they had to get going.
First, according to William Boor of MLB.com, three automatic balls were called when pitchers violated the 20-second rule. The first pitcher called for the violation was top Astros prospect and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, who committed the violation out of the stretch in the top of the first. As you can, see even the announcers were a little confused by the situation:
The second thing of note is the score, though how much the rule changes affected the 1-0 outcome is too difficult to measure after one game. And even in the clock-free MLB, a 1-0 game’s going to be shorter than a 10-9 slugfest — unless perhaps it’s the Yankees playing the Red Sox.
After the game, the consensus among players seemed to be, despite the low score, the rules will be a detriment to pitchers:
"It’s a little different, takes some getting used to," Salt River Rafters center fielder and Astros prospect Andrew Aplin told Boor. "I think it’s more on the pitching, a little bit more frustrating on the pitching side because they get in a hole, 3-0, they like to step off, get their composure and bounce back so they can throw three strikes in a row, but it’s hard for them to do that when they have to watch the clock."
"It’s definitely different," Salt River Rafters catcher and Astros prospect Tyler Heineman said. "We’ve got to get used to it. It might make the pitchers rush a bit when they’re coming in from the bullpen in-between innings. It might take away from their first couple of pitches because they’re out of gas."
And Aplin also said the time limit will allow base runners to take advantage of pitchers virtually unable to step off in the current experiment.
"You can read that, especially from second when [the clock] is right in your view," Aplin said. "We’ll see how that plays out as it goes on, see if they change the spotting of the clocks or what not. But for right now, we’re just taking it as it is and dealing with it."
Among the other rules that will be used at various AFL games: No-pitch intentional walks (the manager instead simply flashes four fingers to the home-plate umpire and the batter takes first base) and batters required to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times with a few exceptions based on the outcome of the previous pitch.
While scoring was down in MLB this season, the length of games was at an all-time high, each contest averaging 3:02, or nearly a half-hour longer than they were little more than three decades ago.