Chris Herrmann drifted in to snag a routine fly ball with two outs in the ninth and the Twins ahead by three on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The ball landed in his glove … then improbably popped out, giving Twins fans temporary pits in their stomachs.
A single followed before Glen Perkins was able to record the final out. No harm done, even if the tying run came to the plate. Except … Herrmann’s gaffe might have cost the Twins in one department: the rare chance to complete a game — and every game in a series — in under three hours. By our watch, it would have ended in 2 hours, 59 minutes with a normal squeeze. Instead, the official game time was 3:02, and it led us down a precarious research path that won’t make fans of fast-paced baseball happy.
The Twins have not played an entire series of three games or longer in under three hours for each game since July 19-21, 2013, when they took two of three from Cleveland. Two of the games clocked in at 2:59 and 2:57, respectively, but that still qualified as the fourth and final series of 2013 to meet the threshold. It has not happened for the Twins in 2014, a year in which pace of play has again become a point of discussion.
Eighteen of the Twins’ 29 games this season have lasted three hours or longer. Before picking it up a bit over the weekend, the Twins’ average game time through 26 games this season was a ridiculous 3 hours, 20 minutes. That included four extra-inning games, but none was longer than 12 innings. The last of those 26 games was a 12-inning affair vs. the Dodgers that lasted 5 hours, 11 minutes — and had reached the four-hour mark by the end of nine innings.
The first two in the Orioles series were relatively brisk — 2:51 on Saturday and the fastest of the year, 2:29, on Friday. Thanks to those games and the still-quick-by-comparison 3:02 Sunday, the Twins’ average game time is now down to 3 hours, 17 minutes.
Go back just a generation, to the 1984 Twins, and you’ll find only 11 games all season that lasted three hours or longer. Almost half the games they played that year were 2:30 or shorter.
Why does it matter? Isn’t part of the charm of baseball the fact that there is no clock — some games might last four hours, a few might be close to half that, and you take what you get?
That used to be a charm. Now it’s just an energy drain. I don’t know if a pitch clock — such as the one college baseball’s SEC started as an experiment in 2010 — is the answer. But I know this: I’m a patient person who loves baseball, and these long games are not sustainable.