I love the fact that baseball has no timer, that the game's progress is marked in outs, not minutes and seconds. It means that no team can just run out the clock, that every game, no matter how bad the blowout, has the theoretical chance of turning around.
But there's a downside to the outs system, which I noticed in the 5th inning of tonight's game against the Royals. You see, there's also the theoretical chance that an inning might never end.
It all started innocently enough. The Yanks had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning, behind an A-Rod walk and a Gary Sheffield double, and a hard-hit sac fly by Hideki Matsui. David DeJesus made an amazing play on Matsui's gapper, which at the time looked like the kind of hit that could crack the game open.
The game sure was about to break open, alright.
Brad Halsey walked his first batter of the inning, which earned him a visit from the embattled (at least on the Internet) pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre. As he talked slowly to Halsey on the mound, Stottlemyre looked like a man determined to bring Tanyon Sturtze into the game. Sturtze wasn't ready yet, so Stott got chased off the mound by the ump, and Halsey faced Angel Berroa. Berroa bunted to Halsey, who threw to Cairo ... who was not quite covering at first.
Of course, Tanyon Sturtze is just the guy you want protecting your 3-2 lead with men on 1st and 2nd and no outs. Abraham Nuñez tries to bail the Sturtzeter out by dropping another bunt, down the first base line. Olerud fields this one, and looks like his feet are stuck in cement as Nuñez simply runs around him to first.
That wasn't really Tanyon's fault. Walking Ken Harvey (26 walks all year) with the bases loaded was. Then there was the run-scoring wild pitch. And the run-scoring balk.
Seven more runs later, I was contemplating the possibility that an inning need not end. It could just go on forever, be called for darkness, and continue the next day. I figured that if the fifth inning threatened to go into Wednesday, maybe Bud Selig would have to step in. But then again, not being terribly good at the traditional fundtions of his job, he might not.
The Royals might not ever make an out again, pessimist fans Rob Neyer and Bill James be damned.
Luckily, the most unlikely hero of all -- CJ Nitkowski -- came to the rescue, got Matt Stairs out. The fifth inning was over score 12-2. Pretty much game over, too. Paul Quantrill who gets scarier with each outing (but look on the bright side: he tied the Yankee record for appearances in a season!) gave up a few more runs in the seventh, he was followed by Felix Heredia, who did his Run Fairy thing.
Final score? 17-8, thanks to a five-spot in the ninth inning.
Do good teams lose like this? Do good teams carry this much replacement-level pitching on the roster?