Time? Clocks go out in minor-league opener

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) It was opening day for the new pace of play rules in minor league baseball, and the only problem was caused by the clocks: In Buffalo, they broke.

Instead of a malfunction, a combined six pitching changes, 16 hits, 14 walks and a heavy rain that fell over the final two innings had more to do with the nearly three hours it took for the Rochester Red Wings to beat the Triple-A Bisons 6-3 on Thursday.

''Every game's not going to be two hours and five minutes,'' Rochester manager Mike Quade said. ''If we would've had a bunch of problems, I would have said, `What?' I think the kids understand. We all understand. And it was a non-issue.''

Major League Baseball added speed-up guidelines this season, hoping to cut down the length of games. The rules for Triple-A and Double-A, where the seasons started Thursday, are more stringent.

At Coca-Cola Field, where the International League teams of the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays met, the main trouble had nothing to do with pitching mechanics. Rather, it was mechanical.

The clock in center field that counts down the time between pitches and innings blinked out at the top of the third inning, then came back in the fourth. In the top of the sixth, that same clock and two more behind the plate went dark before lighting up in the bottom half of the inning.

International League President Randy Mobley told The Associated Press there was a problem with the clocks' communication system.

''It just hung up and we had to find a way to get that cleared and going again,'' Mobley said. He said league officials have been reviewing the glitch with the Bisons. ''We've got a little bit of learning to do on that yet.''

The game was played at an efficient pace despite taking two hours and 54 minutes - slightly down from the IL average last season. The first inning lasted 15 minutes, and the first three innings took exactly 45 minutes.

''I looked at it in the first inning, and I said, `Do not look at it again,''' Bisons manager Gary Allenson said.

Allenson, a former big league catcher, is no big fan of the new rules - clearly.

''What was the game, 2:54?'' Allenson said with a smirk. ''Thank god we had the clock out there. It would have been 3:54.''

Added Rochester starter Alex Meyer said: ''I think it's dumb that we have to go out there and think about it. But it's part of it. We've got to deal with it.''

Meyer wasted no time getting into the game. The Minnesota prospect threw his first pitch with 27 seconds left on the clock.

Pitchers have 2 minutes and 25 seconds to begin their windup or come to set between innings. And 20 seconds to do so between pitches.

Baseball announced the changes in February after the average time of a nine-inning game in the majors stretched to a record 3 hours, 2 minutes last year, up from 2:33 in 1981.

In the minors, warnings will be issued through the end of April, before balls and strikes will be added to the count as penalties against pitchers and batters. In the majors, players will face possible $500 fines starting May 1.

It took three hours and 21 minutes for the Colorado Sky Sox to beat visiting Nashville 7-5 in the Pacific Coast League.

''You're letting time affect the game, I don't like that,'' said Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet, a former big league catcher. ''The beauty of our game is 27 outs. You can't stall. You have to get 27. In basketball you can stall, you stall in football, but you can't in baseball. Now non-baseball people are putting a clock to rush through it.''

''I hate looking at the clock,'' he said. ''We teach players to slow down, because this is not a game where - rush, rush, rush. They are not going to be successful doing that. Now we're going, slow it down, but then speed it back up. It makes no sense.''

Said Colorado Springs pitcher Chris Perez, a former All-Star closer with Cleveland: ''I didn't think about it once. I don't care.''

''I don't think it's going to speed up or slow down the game. When the game is on the line, players are going to do what they need to. A clock isn't going to change anything,'' he said.

In Buffalo, there appeared to be two times when the new rules could have come into effect.

With bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, Buffalo's Ryan Goins stepped into the batter's box with 3 seconds left. Home plate umpire Seth Buckminster didn't issue a warning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Buffalo's Josh Thole was ready in the box, when the clock ran out before reliever Michael Tonkin was set.

The IL is keeping track of the infractions, but not announcing them because there are no penalties in April.

Bisons general manager Mike Buczkowski favors the new rules.

''If you look around, by the seventh inning the place is half empty,'' he said. ''So where people complain about the pace of game not directly to me, but when they're leaving in the seventh inning. To me, they're speaking.''

Buczkowski had little control over the fans leaving in the seventh on Thursday. That's when many of the announced crowd of 12,638 headed for the exits as the rain began.

Stan Ringler said he's been going to Sky Sox games for more than 25 years. He was at Security Service Field when Milwaukee's Triple-A affiliate hosted Oakland's top farm team.

Ringler loves baseball, but said he's grown tired of the long lapses that have become routine.

''I'm glad they are finally speeding the game up a bit,'' he said. ''You don't need pitchers just standing out there, wasting time. It's good for the fans.''

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AP freelance writer Brent New contributed to this report.

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