Dear MLB: Solutions for pitching changes, reviews, extra innings and more

Dear MLB: Solutions for pitching changes, reviews, extra innings and more

It's been nearly two days since the latest fulmination about the crushing tedium of baseball -- its pace, that is, rather than its execution -- and how its games can be made faster for the modern generation, which apparently lives life as though it has a Lyft waiting in the driveway.

The most notorious one, which sticks a runner on second base after the 10th inning of games to bring back the thrills of the sacrifice bunt and slow roller to the right side, was rightfully ridiculed for its inherent idiocy, but a competition committee (like the one in the NFL that gave us the exciting new catch rule that requires a wide receiver to hold a thrown ball until death) keeps firing out new ideas like speeding up intentional walks and replay mechanics.

None of which is guaranteed to do anything or even suggestive enough to intrigue the youth of America (say, anyone younger than 50) to watch more baseball.

But since they have ideas, we have ideas.

PITCHING CHANGES

THE ISSUE: There are a lot more of them now than ever because managers be managing. No baseball idea ever goes uncopied or unabused, so shaving time off here is vital.

THE SOLUTION: After the first reliever, each additional reliever loses a pitch, as in the third reliever starts off with a 1-0 count, the fourth with 1-1, the fifth with 2-1, etc. By the time you get to the fifth guy, it’s a full count and hitters have one pitch. Time will fly right by, and if it means the end of the delicate mental battles between pitchers and hitters, hey, at least you’ve shaved off a couple of minutes – until you get some wiseass who just fouls off pitches out of spite.

MUSIC

THE ISSUE: Every hitter has his own tune, and moseys to and saunters from the plate to hear as much as much of said song as possible. This first became a crisis when Carlos Baerga of Cleveland seized upon Macarena in the mid-90s, thus midwifing a torture implement of untold agony to the game.

THE SOLUTION: Speeding up the music slowly but discernibly to fool the hitters into changing their stride to the plate, thus getting to the box earlier and saving . . . oh, 10 seconds tops. Until, of course, you get a hitter who figures it out and has Sibelius’ Karelia Suite played. That’ll slow anybody up.

REVIEWS

THE ISSUE: It takes too long to initiate the process because managers like to take their time deciding, it takes more time because umpires trot blobblishly to the video equipment, and even more time because the fellows in the Chamber Of Secrets often agonize over a play. Getting it wrong seems eminently more sensible by comparison.

THE SOLUTION: Managers must pay out of their own pockets (cash only; no billing) for every challenge – $5000 to a charity, service organization or winery of their choice. In addition, umpires can decide to accede to a challenge or decline it if the call is too obvious by simply saying, “No. You’re wrong. I’m not doing it. Shove off, Waddles.” The kids baseball is trying to reach like that sort of anti-authority kind of thing, even if it is delivered by someone in authority.

TIME BETWEEN INNINGS

THE ISSUE: Commercials, which help pay the freight but are often not worth the wait. This will not be changed because sports would rather turn back time than give back a dime, but I see one idea.

THE SOLUTION: Starting the game while the commercials are still playing, and then telling the folks at home, “You missed a five-pitch groundout, a review and a manager ejection while you were watching that floor wax commercial . . . and here’s the 1-1 to Khris Davis.” This will enrage viewers and sell them on the idea of coming out to the ballpark to see all the stuff they miss at home. This solves the sports-wide problem of television being a better vehicle than the “in-game experience,” which is a stupid term that should never be used again under penalty of beating.

EXTRA INNINGS

THE ISSUE: They’re extra. Evidently, some people in baseball think more baseball is worse than less, a marketing concept known as “scarcity by embarrassment” that has never really taken off in America, or anywhere else for that matter.

THE SOLUTION: Tell anyone who doesn’t like extra innings to take poison. If you really are trying to make the case that your product stinks so much that you would do anything to minimize it, why not make the games seven innings, or even five (thereby taking care of Problem No. 1)? Why not just run a simulation of the game, send the results to the MLB offices and ship the box scores out to all the metrics folks to reduce to sub-atomic structures as they do currently?

THE ALTERNATE SOLUTION: Reduce the season to six marathon weekends – 72 hours in a row without rest. The more games a team fits in, the better chance it has of winning enough games to get to the postseason, a seventh weekend, so the players will pretty hustle their sit-upons down to the nubbin for the extra paycheck. That’ll speed up the game to a very agreeable pace.

THE ALTERNATE TO THE ALTERNATE SOLUTION: Extra innings are great. The more, the better. More people are more interested in a 17-inning game than not. In fact, innings 10 through infinity are played at a much faster pace than innings 1 through 9, so just start with the 10th and don’t tell anyone you’re doing it. You know, just to see if anyone is paying attention.

GASBAGGING

THE ISSUE: People yammering ceaselessly about time of game being the reason baseball fans skew older and how this is a fundamental crisis that must be addressed immediately lest the sport die and the nation implode atop its rotting corpse. This has been an ongoing snivelfest for nearly ever, and baseball is no more willing to put its money where its stopwatch is than it ever has been.

THE SOLUTION: Shutting up at the first available opportunity, and maintaining that stance until the rest of us have safely left earshot. That may not speed up baseball, but time won’t seem to run nearly so slowly the rest of the day.
 

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and and admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for opening day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Arroyo and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Morse hoped to bring a little levity to a battered clubhouse Wednesday. On his first day as a Giant since the 2014 World Series, he ended up bringing the most thrilling win of the season. 

Morse’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth shook AT&T Park and tied the game. His good friend Hunter Pence won it with a sacrifice fly in the 10th, giving the Giants a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. 

The 10th-inning rally started with Gorkys Hernandez’s single off Ross Stripling. Hernandez stole second and Conor Gillaspie drew a walk, and both runners were safe when Adrian Gonzalez went to third on Nick Hundley’s bunt. Pence flied out to deep left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat. The Giants had been 0-13 when trailing after seven. Morse  helped change all that.

Morse’s homer came an inning after Christian Arroyo’s first career homer. The newcomers saved a night that started with nothing but failure. 

The Giants entered with four games this month where they failed to put a runner on the first time through the order. Lefty Alex Wood stayed with the theme. Brandon Belt finally touched first with a one-out walk in the fourth but it wasn’t until the sixth that a Giant — Drew Stubbs — picked up a hit.

By that time, the Dodgers led 3-0. Johnny Cueto worked around some early trouble but Corey Seager got to him in the sixth. The young shortstop led off with a mammoth blast on a 3-2 pitch that landed a couple dozen rows up in left-center. The homer was tracked at 462 feet per Statcast, tied for the longest in the Majors this season.

The Dodgers went up 2-0 when Chase Utley blooped a single to left with the bases loaded. Utley was 1-for-31 at the time. Andrew Toles beat out a grounder to bring home a third run. 

The Giants looked dead in the water, but Wood — the Dodgers’ swingman — was pulled after 77 pitches and old friend Sergio Romo immediately opened the door. Buster Posey hit a one-out single and Arroyo lined a slider just over the fence in left-center.

Morse’s first at-bat as a Giant in three years sent an even bigger charge through the park. He got a 97 mph fastball from Pedro Baez with two strikes and blasted it to left. Morse held his arm up right away and screamed as he rounded first.

Starting pitching report: Cueto was charged with three runs on seven hits and two walks. He’ll finish April with a 5.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. After holding opposing hitters to a .238 average last year, he’s getting hit at a .271 clip this season. 

Bullpen report: Steven Okert did a great job of settling the place down, throwing a scoreless inning before Arroyo’s homer and retiring two more immediately after. 

At the plate: The 21-year-old Arroyo calmly clapped his hands once as he rounded first. He was pushed out of the dugout for a curtain call as the park roared. Most impressive of all, his mom, Kimberly, didn’t drop a single nacho as she celebrated in the stands.

In the field: Stubbs made a diving catch to open the seventh and Gorkys Hernandez followed with a nifty sliding catch at the wall.

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,572 human beings. Thursday will be the 500th consecutive (announced) sellout.

Up next: Matt Moore (1-3, 5.87 ERA) will try to turn his month around. The Dodgers will trot out young lefty Julio Urias, who spent three weeks in the minors to control his innings count.