116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels played a marathon Sunday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. At least for them.
They beat Quad Cities in 11 innings, 2-1, on Anthony Prato’s walk-off sacrifice fly. The diminutive leadoff hitter was lifted into the air by a celebrating teammate near first base after the winning run crossed the plate, then given a double water-cooler bath by a couple other teammates.
He held his bat upside down in his hand the entire time.
Speaking of time, this game lasted two hours and 58 minutes, the second-longest of the season for the Kernels and the longest at home. Just once so far this Midwest League season has Cedar Rapids played a game that hit the three-hour mark.
Major League Baseball must be ecstatic by these numbers. If you haven’t heard, it mandated the use of pitching/hitting clocks throughout the minor leagues this season in order to improve the pace of play, an experiment that assuredly will work its way to the bigs on a permanent basis sooner than later.
Pitchers must be in their windup to throw a pitch within 14 seconds when there are no opposing runners on base, within 18 seconds when there are guys on. An automatic ball results if that rule is violated.
Similarly, hitters must be in the box and ready to go when the pitch clock hits nine seconds, or else it’s an automatic strike. The number of pitching stepoffs, pickoff attempts, catcher-called timeouts are limited to two per at-bat or else runners automatically move up a base.
“The clocks are doing their job. They’re speeding up the game,” Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman said.
Everyone was given a week’s grace period to adjust to this whole thing, with umpires strictly enforcing the new pace-of-play rules beginning April 15. Going into Sunday, the Kernels had played 21 games under them, with an average game time of two hours and 23 minutes.
In 11 home games, the average time was an even speedier 2:17. In the five previous games of this series, times were (in order) 2:10, 1:56, 2:23, 2:08 and 2:03.
That’s quick. Really, really quick.
Maybe too quick?
“There is some good and bad to it,” Dinkelman said. “I mean, we want to keep the game moving along and not have it drag out. But there are times, too, where players need to reset or have the ability to take time and not feel like they have to rush on the mound or get back in the box.
“I think the clock is a good thing. But maybe if they could bump it back a few more seconds, give the guys a couple extra seconds to gather themselves pitching or hitting, that’d be good.”
Players seem to agree. They like quicker games but feel they are too rushed at times.
“It was a little difficult to adjust to the first week,” said Kernels starting pitcher Sawyer Gipson-Long, who threw 5 1/3 shutout innings Sunday. “I would say I wasn’t used to moving quite as fast as they wanted us to, and I still think it is a little (too) quick, honestly ... But I do actually enjoy it. It does speed the game up, makes it a little more interesting. I think the pitch clock is doing what it was meant to do.”
“I think as pitchers we were used to taking our time because we had the ball,” said Kernels reliever Orlando Rodriguez. “Now we go off the clock, and we just have to deal with it. This game is all about slowing it down (at key moments). Dealing with the clock, you’ve got to be able to take a breath, slow down, take this pitch and make the most of it (in a certain amount of time).”
Cedar Rapids improved to a Western Division-best 19-8 with this victory, winning four of six in the series. The teams combined for just nine hits and 30 strikeouts.
The Kernels have Monday off, then play a six-game series at Peoria that begins Tuesday night.
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