Last Sunday, the Red Sox and Yankees played a baseball game that lasted four hours and 15 minutes. Yes, the game went 10 innings, but there wasn't a bench-clearing brawl, or a rain delay. The Red Sox and Yankees needed no heavenly assistance to eat up 4:15.
An affair to remember? Uh, no. It was merely a showdown between a team destined to win its division and a team destined to qualify for a wild-card berth, and I've already forgotten who won. When a 10-inning baseball game takes 17 minutes longer to play than "Gone With the Wind," frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
A reason Red Sox-Yankees games are so interminable is that the hitters on both clubs adhere to an organizational philosophy of working the count. And they're good hitters, which is why the teams combined to use 13 pitchers last Sunday.
A specific culprit, pointed out by ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine, was Boston starter Josh Beckett, among the most deliberate pitchers in baseball. According to FanGraphs.com, Beckett averages 40.3 seconds between pitches when there's a runner on base, and 25 seconds with the bases empty. Major League Baseball rules require a pitcher to take no more than 12 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty, but the next time I see the 12-second limit enforced will be the first time.
As Beckett was dawdling in the sixth inning, Valentine said: "That's a half-hour added to this game of him standing around and us sitting around watching him do nothing."
The Red Sox are coming to Safeco Field this weekend for a three-game series against a Mariners team that will never be accused of meandering. A slowpoke like Beckett can shake off signs and step off the rubber after every pitch, but there's just so much stalling a guy can do during a three-up, three-down inning.
Still, don't be surprised if midnight strikes at the oasis because, after all, these are the Red Sox. I once took my son, who then was 5 years old, to see Boston play the Mariners in the Kingdome. When we finally stood up for the seventh-inning stretch, I noticed he was growing sideburns.
OK, I exaggerate. This is what really happened: We left in the top of the eighth inning -- the kid was starting to get restless, and so was his old man -- and despite the fact we were stalled by a long freight train outside the ballpark, we made it back to Tacoma in time to watch the bottom of the ninth.
This was in 1996, when baseball games began slowing to a crawl.
Between 1970 and 1979, contests averaged a reasonable 2:30. Between 2000 and '09, the average game time increased to 2:52.
It's easy to explain how 22 minutes of inaction were added.
Micro-managing -- calling upon situational relievers as early as the sixth inning -- became pervasive. And while I've got no statistical evidence on catchers' bothersome penchant for interrupting play to confer with the pitcher, I am convinced there are 10 times more of these gloves-to-the-mouth discussions in 2011 than there were in, say, 1991.
When the MLB Network was launched a few years ago, it aired the entire tape of Don Larsen's perfect World Series game in 1956. The technology is raw -- there's no center field camera allowing viewers to see the trajectory of any given pitch -- and the minimalist accounts of Yankees' announcer Mel Allen (he worked the first 4-1/2 innings) and the Dodgers' Vin Scully make you both appreciate the tranquility of a one-man booth while realizing the folly of broadcasting a ballgame without an informed analyst.
But the revelation is the pace of the game: Larsen takes his sign from catcher Yogi Berra and throws the ball. He doesn't fidget. He doesn't remove his cap and wipe the sweat off his forehead. Larsen's only affectation is to grab the resin bag before almost every pitch.
The hitters, meanwhile, are ready to go as soon as Larsen is. In retrospect, as victims of a perfecto, the Dodgers might've helped themselves by occasionally stepping out of the box and messing with the pitcher's rhythm. But that's not how the game was played in 1956.
It was played like this: In the eighth inning, after what would turn out to be Jackie Robinson's final at-bat on the road, Robinson returns to the dugout upon hitting a grounder back to Larsen. As Robinson approaches the area around home plate, Gil Hodges not only has a bat in his hands, he's in the box.
Larsen's masterpiece, by the way, was completed in two hours and five minutes.
One of baseball's charms is its "timelessness" -- there's no clock -- but anything can be measured in time. When four hours and 15 minutes are needed to play a 10-inning baseball game in early August, that's not the definition of timeless.
That's a whole lot of wasted time, gone with the wind.