There's nothing like a 4-hour, 4-minute game to take the air out of one of the most intriguing World Series matchups in recent memory, but that's exactly what happened in Game 2 of the Fall Classic on Wednesday night in Cleveland.
The Chicago Cubs' 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians began with a spark – former Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta took a no-hitter into the sixth inning – but the game ended with Fox showing crowd shots of fans yawning at Progressive Field. It's a good thing Major League Baseball moved the game up an hour because of looming bad weather or it would have been looking at a game ending well past midnight on the East Coast.
Since we've been dissecting a number of topics related to the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, Wednesday's snoozer in Cleveland allows us to bring the topic of pace of play to the forefront.
Commissioner Rob Manfred hasn't been shy in sharing his frustration that games have been longer in 2016 after a dip last season after several small measures were implemented to speed up games -- like the installation of time clocks between innings and batters having to remain in the batter's box between pitches in most situations.
"I would say I was a little disappointed on the pace of play issue," Manfred said earlier this month before the National League wild-card game in New York. "We slipped backward in terms of the time of game. I think we slipped backward on pace of play, time of game to one side.
"... I do believe that pace of play is one of those issues where you need a constant reminder on the field. I think if you look at the data we've collected in the minor leagues where we have used things like a pitch clock, we don't have a lot of pitch clock violations. The game moves along, the players adjust. But the clock serves as a constant reminder that you've got to move on, and the players adjust and they do it before the clock runs out."
It's clear that Manfred would like to at least consider installing a pitch clock to speed up games. And there's no question that pitchers are not only working slower but also throwing more pitches. Even the Orioles, who are considered a pretty efficient team, threw more pitches this season – 3.96 per plate appearance compared to 3.86 last year – and recorded a lower strike percentage (63.2 versus 64.4 in 2015).
Installing the pitch clock rules that have existed in the minors might affect that, and it seemingly would eliminate the number of tedious catcher's visits to the mound -- something Orioles manager Buck Showalter has publicly bemoaned -- but there's no guarantee. Since the pitch clock was installed in the minor leagues, theoretically a group of young pitchers coming up should arrive in the major leagues working faster, so that should have had some effect already on improving speed of play.
There's no question that instant replay has an effect. The number of replay reviews in the regular season went up nearly 11 percent over last season. That's not necessarily the problem though, but it's the long replays that add considerable time. And it's that delay that has some in the game – like Showalter – begging for a timer to be placed on replay officials in New York when reviewing plays.
While the pace of play rules added two years ago appeared to go through seamlessly, that's not necessarily the case. Players receive warning letters and are fined for repeated violations. One case involved Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. When talking about his desire to move Jones from the leadoff spot next season, Showalter said that batting leadoff at home actually cost Jones money because of the time it took for him to come in from center field, prepare to hit and get to the batter's box for his first at-bat in the bottom of the first inning. It regularly took Jones longer than the 2 minutes, 30 seconds allotted between innings.
Manfred said that the key is continuing to push forward with time-saving adjustments to the game – though adding a pitch clock would be more than a subtle adjustment – and keeping the rules in the forefront of the players' minds so they can adjust.
"Last year we had a nice year," Manfred said earlier this month. "The game time came down a little bit. But we had a lot of rule changes -- the batter's box rule, the inning clock, which serves to keep things in front of the players' minds -- and the players were tremendously cooperative. … I think because we did not have those same sort of changes this year, we kind of slipped back a little bit, and we need to refocus our efforts."