Praise the pitch clock, which is already transforming how we watch Red Sox baseball
Tomase: Praise the pitch clock, which will transform how we watch baseball originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In their second game of spring training last year, the Red Sox beat the Rays 7-6 while combining for 26 baserunners. Time of game: 3:03.
In their second spring training game this year, the Red Sox beat the Rays 7-6 while combining for 26 baserunners. Time of game: 2:39.
Welcome to the pitch clock era, now getting you home 25 minutes early. Baseball's most consequential rule change since the designated hitter is already fundamentally altering a game in desperate need of updating -- and for the better.
"The pace has been amazing," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Obviously there are a few things that we still have to work on and we've got 27 days or whatever to get to where we want to, but no doubt about it, for the game, this is the right thing."
The Red Sox played their third game with the pitch clock on Monday, and it has already transformed the viewing experience. It's easy to lose sight of how broken something is until someone tries to fix it, and a generation of fans is being introduced to a sport that disappeared sometime in the 1990s.
Tomase: MLB's new pitch clock making positive impact
Watching a contest played at its proper pace is actually jarring. For the last two decades, a bunch of ruthlessly smart people have pushed the game to its limits, slowing play, killing the action, and squeezing every inefficiency out of the product. The result? A leaden, joyless, tedious slog that took longer than ever.
It never had to be this way, which baseball finally, belatedly realized. But now that change is here, it is considerable.
A TikTok video made the rounds on social media this weekend superimposing one pitch from Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez during the 2016 playoffs over a loop of Jose Altuve hitting an inside-the-park home run. Thanks to timeouts and step-offs, Altuve circles the bases more than seven times between Baez's pitches, a gap of nearly two minutes. It's honestly hard to watch.
That something so egregious was ever allowed to happen highlights how thoroughly the sport had lost its way. It's equally maddening that it took seven years to address.
But progress delayed needn't mean progress denied, so prepare to develop a new spectating rhythm. The lulls where you used to check your phone or stare at the ceiling, they're pitches now. The clock is a constant presence, and those 15 seconds with the bases empty tick relentlessly, like Desmond pushing the button on "Lost". You'll find yourself with one eye on the pitcher and one eye on the clock, a la the waning seconds of an NBA possession.
No longer will fans be forced to watch self-indulgent hitters inhale deeply and adjust batting gloves and straddle the box reluctantly. Now they've got eight seconds or they're taking a strike. Similarly, the days of relievers just holding the ball while they charge up an extra quarter of a mile an hour on their fastball are over, and good riddance.
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The game moves now, and it's not just about the batter and pitcher. Defenders feel more engaged, because there are no longer interminable pauses in the action.
"You're always on your toes, which I like," said second baseman Christian Arroyo. "You're always involved, always in the game."
Major League Baseball believed the pitch clock could shave 25 minutes off the average time of game, and that's not 25 minutes of action. It's 25 minutes of standing around, talking into gloves, calling mound visits, stepping out of the box, making worthless pickoff throws instead of focusing on the hitter.
So far this spring, game times are down more than 20 minutes. The Red Sox beat the Twins 4-1 on Monday in a tidy 2:24 in a game that featured 17 hits, a great defensive play from Kiké Hernández ranging deep into the hole at shortstop, and the rare sight of catcher Caleb Hamilton scoring from second on a sacrifice fly to center.
Deliver that game in under two and a half hours and it's worth watching. Make us sit through the same amount of action for 3:13 and we'll be aimlessly Googling by the third inning.
"It's been great," Cora said. "I love it. Why do I say that? Because I want to be home sooner rather than later. I think it's a better product for the fans."