WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It took 2 hours, 19 minutes for the Miami Marlins to beat the Houston Astros 4-3 in a spring training game Monday — a game so fast that Ryan Murphy, a lifelong Houston fan, found himself lingering in the ballpark for a while afterward.
“I’m a baseball fan,” said Murphy, wearing 2022 Astros World Series gear, “so if I stay here for four hours, for two hours, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Faced with criticism of dwindling cultural relevance and a laggardly product compared to other major sports, Major League Baseball introduced a set of new rules this year to speed up games and attract younger fans.
The bases are bigger to improve player safety and may also encourage more aggressive baserunning. Pitchers can only disengage from the pitching rubber twice per plate appearance. And there's a new pitch clock that gives players 30 seconds to resume play between batters. Between pitches, pitchers have 15 seconds with nobody on and 20 seconds if there is a baserunner.
Less than a week into the spring training exhibition schedule, MLB seems to be getting what it wants, shaving about 20 minutes off the average length of games compared to last spring.
Players have been mostly pleased with the rollout.
“The game feels more exciting,” Washington Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin said. “Even some of the high-scoring games are under three hours.”
Fans seeing the new-look sport for the first time this week have had mixed reviews. Some, like Murphy, are indifferent to the changes.
“It’s irrelevant to us as fans, honestly,” said Murphy, who traveled from Utah to West Palm Beach for Houston's exhibition season. “Players might think something different of it, but for us it’s all the same.
"How would I know the bases are bigger, honestly? I mean, we see a pitch clock out here, and we know it’s there, but it doesn’t matter to me.”
Some fans like the idea of being in and out of a game in under three hours, which is about how long an average nine-inning baseball game lasted in 2022.
Others feel a nostalgic pull to how the sport has always been.
“I’m not a big fan of the pitch count,” said Mark Mezzatesta, who traveled to Florida from Queens in New York. “I feel like that’s rushing the game. I feel it was fine the way it was. Pitchers do take a while. And batters do take a while, too. Fifteen seconds with nobody on base and 20 seconds with somebody on base is too short.”
Barbara Schiffman of Roseland, New Jersey, said she’s OK with some of the rules but “they should never let a game end on either the pitch clock or the batter clock."
She was referring to a recent game between Atlanta and Boston that ended in a tie after Braves prospect Cal Conley was assessed an automatic strike for a pitch clock violation.
Conley originally thought he’d won the game with a two-out, bases-loaded walk but instead was given an at-bat-ending strike after the umpire said he wasn’t set in the box as the clock wound under 8 seconds.
“When you get to that point in the game,” Schiffman said, “you’ve got to let the game play out without the clock. That would be my only concern.”
She also had a complaint about new limits on pitcher disengagements from the rubber. Pitchers can only attempt to pick off a runner twice — if they try a third pickoff and are unsuccessful, the runner gets to advance a base.
“That doesn’t really work as far as keeping the runner from stealing, especially with the bigger base,” Schiffman said. “Those two things don’t really go together.”
Mary Theresa Fosko of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, said she liked the new rules but added, “The only tough thing is that the pitchers don’t get time to rest.”
That's a trade-off that pitchers have grappled with early in the spring.
“The game does go quick, especially when they’re swinging a lot," said Corbin, who started for Washington in Wednesday's 5-3 loss to the Cardinals. “I’ve always worked kind of quick. I think it’d be a little bit tougher on guys that may be out of the 'pen or guys that aren’t used to working that fast. But that’s why we have this in spring training and hopefully get used to it.”
Fosko’s brother, Frank, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said that even a 12-7 game between the Cardinals and New York Mets that he and Mary watched in Jupiter, Florida, moved along more quickly than the 2:59 game time might have suggested.
“The game went a good hour shorter than it probably would have,” Mary Fosko said, “That 15-second thing? That works for us.”
But she still wants to see more action.
“A few hits here and there is great,” she said. “But the walks just take forever. Everybody is swinging for the fences, and stuff like that.”
AP freelance writer Rick Hummel contributed to this report.
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