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This time, it was a welcome change of pace

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 10, 2010 12:30 AM

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The Yankees and Red Sox dig the long ball, and that’s not a reference to the three home runs the teams combined for last night at the Fens. It’s an indisputable fact about the interminable games between the teams.

Fox put up a stat during Saturday’s game that dating to 2004 the average time of game in major league baseball was 2 hours 48 minutes, while the average time of a Sox-Yankees game was 3 hours 22 minutes. Last night was the sixth time the teams had played this season; the previous five took an average of 3 hours 34 minutes to conclude, or about the time it takes to fly from Boston to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

That makes for some excruciating baseball, especially when the Sox had lost four of those five and been outscored, 24-6, on Friday and Saturday. Another long, lopsided loss to the Pinstripes and it would have been panic time in the Hub.

But instead last night was time well spent for Sox fans, as the Olde Towne Team salvaged a game of this three-game set with a 9-3 win behind Jon Lester. Oh, and the game was over well before the witching hour, clocking in at a tidy 3 hours 5 minutes. It was a win-win all around, for once.

This game was a far cry from the teams’ Saturday matinee, which clocked in at 3 hours 56 minutes (plus a 1-hour-14-minute rain delay) and ended with the Bronx Bombers laying a 14-3 beatdown on the Sox.

“The last two games we played the Yankees it wasn’t pretty,’’ said Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre. “You know we know we’re going to face them a lot, so we want to make sure [last night] we come out with the win because that wasn’t going to be pretty if we were to lose.’’

You’re right, Adrian, there would have been some very cranky Sox fans this morning if this had been the fifth straight time the Sox lost to the Yankees since winning on Opening Night.

It usually feels like seasons change before these teams finish a game — last night was an autumn-like 47 degrees at first pitch, which came at 8:10 p.m. — but Lester breezed on a breezy night and kept things moving. The lefty was as precise as a metronome on the mound again, going seven innings and allowing four hits and two runs (courtesy of fourth-inning solo homers by Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez), while striking out seven.

The Sox also got some timely two-out hitting to blow things open with a five-run third that featured two-out, run-scoring hits by David Ortiz (ground-rule double), Beltre (double), and Jeremy Hermida (single) off Yankees starter A.J. Burnett.

The Yankees couldn’t have picked a better time to start Burnett, who allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 4 1/3 innings and is now winless in his last seven starts against the Sox, dating to 2008. His ERA during that span — 8.35.

The biggest delay last night came from plate umpire Tim McClelland, who paused for dramatic effect on called third strikes. It was a far cry from the teams’ last series at Fenway when umpire Joe West lashed out at the teams, calling their lack of baseball brevity “pathetic and embarrassing’’ and “a disgrace to baseball.’’

It was interesting to note before last night’s game that a few of the participants surveyed on both sides said they hadn’t noticed any concerted attempt by McClelland and his crew to pick up the pace in the last few days.

“None at all,’’ said Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

“Nothing,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

“I don’t feel like there have been any changes. It still feels like the same game,’’ said Swisher.

If an umpire is going to publicly chastise the Sox and the Yankees for tardiness then one would think his co-workers would at least take the time to try to speed things up.

The truth is there is nothing more classic Americana than a time-consuming Sox-Yankees clash. The beauty of baseball is that there is no time limit. There is time for Ortiz to spit on his batting gloves and clasp his hands together. Time for Derek Jeter to foul off pitch after pitch after pitch. Time for Youkilis to work a walk.

It doesn’t matter, because in baseball time doesn’t.

“That is the whole point of the game is that you’re not fighting time, you’re not fighting a shot clock. You’re not fighting quarters. You’re fighting outs and sometimes those outs take a long time and sometimes they come quick,’’ said Youkilis.

Youk adroitly pointed out that one of the reasons Sox-Yankees games take so long besides the patient, pitch-count-inflating approach both teams take (thanks, Billy Beane) is that they’re usually on national television (like last night’s ESPN affair). He said that often the teams are ready to go, but are told to hold up while they wait to return from a commercial.

For years Major League Baseball has been talking about speeding up games, and they’ve had some success. But the days of playing two-hour games have gone the way of wool uniforms, they’re a relic of a different era.

This era belongs more to OBP than ASAP.

“Well, you can’t change the game. That’s the one thing you can’t change,’’ said Girardi, who was ejected in the middle of the fourth inning last night, further delaying proceedings.

“You can’t just start calling every pitch a strike to speed up the game.’’

With McClelland that would have just taken longer. But it’s good to know the Sox are back up to speed against the Yankees.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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