Did you stay awake for the entirety of last night’s Twins-Yankees game? Are you still feeling the pain this morning? Last night’s game was good, and featured great plays, great action, and a stunning performance by the Yankees bullpen. It was also way too fucking long, and was a good reminder that October baseball is pace-of-play hell.
“Pace of play” is basically a buzzword at this point, thrown around enough by Rob Manfred that a number of baseball writers have absorbed it by osmosis, shorthand for looking around and saying, hey, seriously, this shit is dragged out like crazy. But last night’s game, which should have been MLB’s dream—Aaron Judge home run, Byron Buxton’s speed and defensive ability, a wildly competitive first inning—was probably a little bit soul-crushing for Manfred and his disciples.
The official time of the game was three hours and 51 minutes. Call it four hours, if you tuned in when the game was actually scheduled to start. A large chunk of that was due to the first inning, which featured three runs apiece and three home runs, and which took 46 minutes to complete.
You know what? Fine. It was good and interesting, leaving poor Luis Severino shelled and Ervin Santana possibly dealing with a cold arm after sitting for like, 30 minutes after warming up while the Yankees struggled to get three outs.
But then the second and third innings took another hour to complete; two-ish hours for the first third of the game.
It was still a close game going into the fourth, Yankees up one run, Twins sorely regretting the two men left on base in the first inning. And yet, I’ll admit, I was already a little burned out by then. I want to stick to my nightly routine and schedule without missing playoff baseball; I want to read quietly in bed and be lights-out by midnight. Sure, that’s going to be a tight schedule in any postseason—and the West Coast games scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. EDT obviously don’t count—but by the time this game wrapped up just after midnight, I was spent.
Yesterday, Brian Costa and Jared Diamond at the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece about pace of play, tying in the foremost playing factors (stats, better understanding of pitching rhythms that lead to more changes, the trend toward the three true outcomes, longer times between pitches thrown), with the concerns about an ever-aging fanbase and executives who want to see the game get a little shorter while still implementing the stats-based philosophy.
The second was a revelation born of a statistic that only recently came into existence—the launch angle. Radar and camera measurements of the angle at which balls leave the bat have shown that the optimal swing angle looks more like an uppercut than many hitters preferred. Hitters, in turn, have started swinging for the fences in droves. Home runs this season reached a record level.
That all-or-nothing approach means that between each home run there is a lot of standing around and waiting. Some classic displays of athleticism—a daring attempt by a runner to advance more than one base on a teammate’s hit, for instance—have become rarer.
It’s behind a paywall, but it’s thorough and illuminating and makes a strong case to non-believers about why pace of play is an issue. Yet while the game itself is slowing down, the league is still jamming commercials in at every possible gap, inserting rigid two-plus minute lulls in the broadcast.
I don’t want to get all won’t somebody think of the children?! on you, but really, if MLB is struggling to remain relevant to the youths, four-hour games are pretty detrimental. Are you a parent? If so, how late did you let your kid stay up?
Ultimately, it was worth staying up to watch the Yankees complete their nearly all-bullpen feat, recoiling in horror at the thought of this wretched team being yet again built to win. Or at least that’s the official line; the real late-inning gem was Gary Sanchez getting hit in the dick and balls and David Robertson becoming a study in empathy.
This upcoming series between the Yankees and Indians in Cleveland will probably play pretty slowly; the teams each have bullpens basically designed for October, with the Indians having the best bullpen ERA in the regular season and the Yankees not far behind in third, and both have potent offenses, so count on frequent pitching changes. And we have Maddonball to look forward to, so don’t—like me—get all twisted up about evening schedules and routines. Drink that 4 p.m. coffee. We’re gonna have some long nights.