Giants-Yankees Opening Day pace perfectly displays future of MLB

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NEW YORK -- The main complaint from opponents of the pitch clock has been that baseball is a game that shouldn't feel rushed, but Opening Day provided a reminder that not every game is one you want to savor. The Giants managed just four hits and struck out 16 times, falling behind in the first inning and never even hinting at a comeback. 

It was not a very watchable game. It was also over in a tidy two hours, 33 minutes. 

That fit right in with the kind of baseball the Giants played in their first spring with a pitch clock, shift restrictions and bigger bases. Their average over 30 spring training games was 2:34, which was 33 minutes shorter than their average in 2022. After playing 10 games last spring that were longer than three hours, the Giants had just three in a much longer 2023 spring (there was a lockout last season), and one of them only went above the mark because everyone lost track of the outs in the middle of last Sunday's game in Oakland, which ended up at 3:01.

Gabe Kapler said at the start of the spring that he felt it was a better brand of baseball. He felt the same as the Giants packed to head to New York. 

"Spring training was a lot more crisp, a lot more efficient," he said earlier this week. "I think our players and staff appreciated it but probably most importantly, our fans seemed to really like the pace of the game."

The opener last year, a 10-inning win over the Miami Marlins, took 3:26. On Thursday, the much faster pace didn't lead to any notable issues. 

There was just one violation, called on J.D. Davis in the ninth when he wasn't fast enough getting into the box. That tracked with recent weeks, as MLB told teams at the end of camp that they were averaging just about one violation per game over the second half of March.

The new rules on the bases also seemed to come into play Thursday. The Yankees swiped two bases and Thairo Estrada stole second. Across the league, there were 21 stolen bases, a massive increase from 2022.

The Giants didn't even have many chances to think of stealing, and because Logan Webb and Gerrit Cole combined for 23 strikeouts, there were not a lot of opportunities to test the new shift rules. Thursday, then, was mostly about pace of play, and a sign of what's to come. 

Only five of the 15 MLB games hit three hours, with the Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals going 3:38 in a wild 10-9 game. At 2:33, the Giants and Yankees were actually only the sixth-fastest. 

The range from Thursday seems to be about where most games will settle, and it will be a notable change. The average nine-inning Giants game last season was 3:05 and you have to go back to 2011 (2:54) to find the last time the Giants were under three hours on average, and all the way back to 1985 (2:37) for the last year they were under 2:40 consistently. 

The Giants hope for much more offense the rest of this trip, but at some point this season a game like Thursday's will zoom along at an even faster pace, likely leaving the teams under two hours. The Giants had one spring game this year at 2:01, but you have to go all the way back to Sept. 25, 2019 to find the last time they played a nine-inning regular season game in under two hours. 

RELATED: Former Giants manager Bochy reacts to first win with Rangers 

While most -- even the players -- seem to be on board with the changes, there's another question that's been brought up often, but it's not one the Giants are worried about. They do not anticipate beer sales taking a hit because there's less time to stand in line at concessions, although they're curious to see what the data says at the end of the season.

That one may have more to do with the style of play than pace of play. If Thursday's performance becomes the norm, fans won't care how many at-bats they're missing as they go looking for another beer. 

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