So. After encyclopædic volumes worth were said and done, the average shortening of games on Opening Day was a whopping . . . 26 minutes. The new rules, don’t you know?
I may be on board with the pitch clock, but I’m not on board with cheers about the shortening when a fourth grade math student can tell you they’d have been shortened more by eliminating half the broadcast commercials. That’s accounting for the spots before each half inning and during any inning jam in which a pitching change was made.
But it didn’t stop the Blue Jays and the Cardinals needing three hours and 38 minutes to finish with a 10-9 Blue Jays win, paced by George Springer’s five hits for the Jays and opened with Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright warbling “The Star Spangled Banner” to just about everyone’s surprise in Busch Stadium.
Two players made history under the new rules. Rafael Devers (third baseman, Red Sox) became the first in Show to strike out on a pitch clock violation. Marcus Stroman (pitcher, Cubs) became the first in Show to be assessed a ball on a clock violation.
Leading off the eighth, Devers was rung up on 2-2 with Bryan Baker on the mound for the Orioles and the Red Sox in a 10-4 hole. “This doesn’t make sense to me,” said an announcer, “because he’d already looked at the pitcher. The pitcher’s not even ready to throw.”
Devers had checked back into the box with a few seconds remaining after stepping out to knock dirt out of his cleats. Even as Baker wasn’t quite ready to throw, plate umpire Lance Barksdale bagged him. It didn’t stop the Red Sox from posting a three-spot in the inning. “There’s no excuse,” said manager Alex Cora. “They know the rules.”
Knowing them and being able to maneuver within them for the first time in regular-season play are not exactly common. But it’s entirely possible that Devers not being dinged might have made a small difference. Led by Adley Rutschmann becoming the first catcher in Show history to have a five-hit Opening Day, the Orioles out-lasted the Red Sox, 10-9, after almost handing the game all the way back to the Olde Towne Team in the bottom of the ninth.
Remember: I’m also on board with turning the damn clock off in the eighth and later. Devers may yet prove evidence on behalf of that.
Stroman got his while checking Brewers runner Brice Turang at second with Christian Yelich at the plate in the third. The pitch clock expired about a hair before Stroman turned to pitch from the stretch. “It’s tough, this pitch clock,” Stroman told reporters postgame. “It’s a big adjustment. I don’t think people really realize it. It just adds a whole other layer of thinking.”
Yelich finally worked a walk out. The Brewers didn’t score then or the rest of the game. The Cubs won it, 4-0.
Jeff McNeil became the first Met to be hung with a pitch clock violation strike—for waiting for Pete Alonso to get back to first on a foul ball. Oops. Manager Buck Showalter was unamused that the clock began to tick before Alonso returned to the pad. McNeil remained mad just long enough to nail a base hit.
That was in an Opening Day game the Mets won, 5-3, beating the Marlins, but they might have had one more, at least, if not for someone whacking Brandon Nimmo with the stupid stick in the third. With first and third, Nimmo dropped a bunt—and hit into an inning-ending double play despite the run scoring. Thus the risk the wasted out, which is exactly what the sac bunt is, carries against defenders alert enough.
The good news there was Max Scherzer holding on despite all three Miami runs charged to his account and the Mets making simple enough work against a still not quite ready Sandy Alcantara. The bad was Justin Verlander having to miss a week while dealing with a muscle strain in his upper back near his throwing shoulder.
Perhaps it was miraculous that Aaron Judge picked up right where he left off from last season and hit one out in his first plate appearance against the Giants. That launched a 5-0 Yankee win that saw both starting pitchers, Gerrit Cole and Logan Webb, nail eleven and twelve strikeouts, respectively—the first opposing Opening Day starters to do that since Max the Knife (then a National, with twelve) and Jacob deGrom (then a Met, with ten) in 2019.
Speaking of deGrom, alas, the good news was, the Rangers got him a small truckload of runs. The bad news was that deGrom, still not all the way ready after a spring training disrupted by a side strain, also surrendered five before the Rangers unloaded for a nine-run fourth and held on to win, 11-7. They became the first Opening Day team to have a nine run-or-better inning since the Padres dropped 11 in the sixth against the Mets in the 1997 opener.
And Shohei still gonna Shohei. The Angels’ two-way unicorn struck ten Athletics out before his day’s work was finished. He even ripped a 110 mph base hit and threw a 101 mph pitch before he was done. And what did it prove worth in the end? Squatski. The Angels lost, 2-1. It put Ohtani onto a dubious record book page: the only pitcher to punch ten out and surrender no runs in his team’s Opening Day loss.
Meanwhile, the Rockies are still gonna Rockie, alas, even when they win. With a pair of home runs by first baseman C.J. Cron leading the way, the Rockies battered the Padres for seventeen hits—despite striking out at the plate seventeen times against four Padres pitchers. Making them the first team since 1900 to deliver that dubious 1-2 punch in a nine-inning game. Ever.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it once more. This is baseball. Where anything can happen—and usually does. With or without rule changes running the bases from the sublime to the ridiculous and back to the absurd. And wish though Commissioner ADD and his minions might, 26 minutes isn’t exactly that big a difference from even last year’s average.