Just when you thought a baseball game couldn't be any more drawn out than Sunday night's 3:55 torture complete with Joe Morgan, last night's 4:08 affair comes along and shoots it right out of the park.
In their last two meetings, the Red Sox and Yankees have played 18 innings of regulation at the inanely slow pace of eight hours, three minutes combined. That's about two entire hours more than your normal, run-of-the-mill pair of major league games normally are expected to last. And if you're looking for a direct comparison, take last night's Mariners-A's game that was played in 2:09 as Exhibit A.
I understand there's plenty of controversy over NESN's decision to carry tonight's Red Sox-Yankees game in HD, relegating the Bruins playoff game (a PLAYOFF game) against the Canadiens to a secondary channel. While I can't explain all the decision-making, this one seemed an easy one, didn't it? Carry the playoff game in HD, and once that's over, switch the HD feed over to the Bronx around 9:30. You'll miss, what, three or four innings?
The Rangers and Blue Jays played 14 innings last night, and the game time was still only 45 minutes longer than the slugfest at Yankee Stadium. The longest nine-inning regular season game in history was in 2006, a 14-11 win by the Yankees over the Red Sox that lasted 4:45. Last night's game in the Bronx only seemed that long.
There is indeed something special about baseball's timelessness, never constricted by the limits of the clock. It is an unapologetic sport that doesn't care about sleeping habits or other appointments. The fact that anything can happen without an expiration looming is part of the game's allure, the one major sport that doesn't run on periods. We flock to baseball because it's the one game without a constant reminder that moments are ticking away and we can enjoy the sport knowing that its pace will be determined by the participants on the field, not a digital reminder of what's left to accomplish.
But it can also be a sport maddening in its tempo, watching professionals in their craft unable to do their job with efficiency. Not mastery, mind you, but just plain old, I'm-paid-very-well-to-do-this-job, efficiency.
It's but only one factor when it comes to determining a game's length, but it is not a huge wonder that the Red Sox pitchers lead all of baseball with 73 walks. That's an average of almost five walks per game. The league average is 49. Last season, the eventual world champs dished out a total of 482 walks, which were sixth-fewest in all of baseball. In 2008, they are walking batters at a rate that would result in 739 walks by the end of the regular season. That would be the most in the majors since Milwaukee gave out 728 bases on balls in 2000.
While that's not likely to happen, Boston's walks are of great concern, and certainly aren't helping when it comes to actually slowing down the opposition. Only Fausto Carmona (eight of his 17 in one game) has more walks in the majors than Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester (15 each), Boston's No. 2 and 3 starters. Tim Wakefield isn't far behind with 12. Despite all of his troubles (27.00 ERA), Mike Timlin walked his first two batters of the season last night in a disastrous inning of work. David Aardsma, who has generally been regarded as one of the team's solid contributors coming out of the bullpen (1.80 ERA), has walked six in eight innings of work.
It's not the sole source of blame for these recent marathons (better offenses, OBP, and their ensuing slugfests will drive up the time no matter how many walks), but it's a start, especially when it comes to high pitch counts from the starters, taxing what is already an overworked bullpen just 16 games into the season. The Red Sox and Yankees will typically play these sorts of marathons, of course, but even these two games sandwich a pair in Cleveland in which the Red Sox and Indians went head-to-head for a combined 7:04.
Jacob Luft kept track of last night's slow developments and has a few tidbits to help point out just how long the game was:
By the time Red Sox-Yankees finished the fifth inning tonight, two entire games that started at the same time had finished. One of them was an American League game -- White Sox 3, Orioles 1. Over in the NL, Houston and Philadelphia played nine in a brisk 2:14, with Roy Oswalt making quick work of Philly.
In L.A., Brad Penny threw the first pitch of the Dodgers-Pirates game to Nate McLouth at 10:10 PM ET. All the West Coast games had officially started. Yankees-Red Sox? Bottom of the sixth. It's even money the Dodgers game will finish before Yankees-Red Sox.
Not quite. The game went 2:56, which means it ended somewhere around 1:06 a.m. ET. Not surprisingly, in the aforementioned A's-Mariners game, there was one walk in all, dished out by Felix Hernandez in his complete-game shutout.
Tonight promises somewhat better returns from the start, as Josh Beckett and Mike Mussina have combined to walk just nine batters all season: six by Beckett, three by Mussina. Heck, if both can keep their pitch counts down we might even see one or both pitch into the seventh inning. I know, crazy.
We don't need new rules in order to speed the game up, as it will assuredly take away from the general pace that makes it special. But we should want pitchers to throw strikes with some sort of regularity, and for a game to last less time than it takes to get through an entire season of whatever cancelled Andy Richter sitcom might be in the DVD player.
Otherwise, the game ultimately becomes far less than crisp, and somewhere close to unenjoyable.