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Column: New rules push baseball into fast-paced world

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Welcome to our fast-paced world, Major League Baseball.

There’s still some catching-up to do, but at least our national pastime is moving toward the 21st century.

Ignore the inevitable grumbling from players and long-term fans (a.k.a. those who still believe World Series games should be played in the daytime) about new rules that are designed to speed up the game and create more action.

Baseball was in desperate need of a makeover if it was to have any chance of enticing new fans who don’t qualify for an AARP card.

The only gripe should be: Why did it take so long to realize the games were boring and far too long?

“The game feels more exciting,” Washington Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin said. “Even some of the high-scoring games are under three hours.”

Indeed, through the first week of spring training, there’s a whole lot to like about pitch clocks and larger bases and limits on infield shifts.

Granted, we’re only talking about a week’s worth of games that don’t count in the standings, and there’s always the possibility of MLB slipping back into the same bad habits that slowed games to a crawl once we get to the regular season.

But the early returns from Florida and Arizona are extremely promising.

Games are shorter. Runs are up. The stolen base has actually become a weapon again.

And, get this: Even the most casual of fans are actually talking about baseball again.

“It is going to make it more exciting for the fans and allow them to be there for the entire game, because they are sitting there for 2 1/2 hours instead of four,” Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Garrett Mitchell said.

Through this past Tuesday, players were hitting .272 and producing an average total of 11.9 runs per game, compared to .259 and 10.6 runs at the same early point in spring training a year ago.

Even better, the much-needed offensive boost was not slowing down games — quite the opposite, in fact. Thanks to the pitch clock, the average game was completed in 2 hours, 39 minutes, a stunning 12% drop from the 3:01 it took to play a game during the same spring stretch in 2022.

The pitch clock — which allows 15, 20 or 30 seconds to make a pitch, depending on the situation, while the hitters must be set in the box with 8 seconds remaining — is going to take some getting used to, for sure.

But that’s a small price to pay to avoid all the wasted time between pitches.

For far too long, we were subjected to hurlers relentlessly stepping off the rubber for no apparent reason, while hitters went through a numbing series of tics between every pitch — tugging at their gloves, adjusting their helmets, taking practice swings.

The biggest key is making sure the umpires enforce the timer without any leeway, especially when the regular season starts and a game could literally be decided by a pitch-clock violation.

We already saw that this spring, when Atlanta prospect Cal Conley thought he had won a game with a full-count, bases-loaded walk with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Instead, the umpire ruled he was not set in the box on time, resulting in a called third strike that left the game in a tie.

“I don’t think this was intended for a game to end like that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker grumbled to reporters.

Actually, there can be no backsliding on this rule if it’s really going to work.

It must be like an NBA referee calling a 24-second violation even if it decides a game, or an NFL official throwing a flag for delay of game at a critical point in the contest.

Trust us, the players will adjust quickly if they know there are real consequences for abusing the clock.

“We’ll all get into the rhythm of it,” Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell said. “There’s going to be a few violations here and there.”

Besides, the clock has a chance to create a whole new level of gamesmanship between pitcher and catcher, which is a lot more exciting than watching someone adjust their protective pad.

New York Mets ace Max Scherzer has theorized that the new rules give pitchers a chance to dictate the pace of games, though he went a little too far Friday while trying several unusual tactics to get Washington’s hitters off their game.

At one point, he started throwing a pitch to Victor Robles the moment plate umpire Jeremy Riggs reset the clock. The ump called him for a balk.

“We have to figure out where the limit is,” Scherzer said.

While the pitch clock has gotten much of the attention, the larger bases and limits on defensive shifts could have a more meaningful impact over the long haul.

No longer can teams shift most of their fielders to one side of the infield to stifle batters who’ve been taught in this money-ball era to swing for the fences on every pitch — but usually wind up pulling the ball into a stacked defensive alignment.

The cumulative batting average for the 2022 season was .243 — the lowest since 1968, when the “Year of the Pitcher” spurred baseball to dramatically lower the mound in an effort to spur more offense.

The limits on shifts should’ve been a no-brainer, given how prevalent they’ve become.

Defensive shifts on balls in play totaled 66,961 last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, a staggering 28-fold increase over the 2,349 shifts that were recorded just 11 years earlier.

It remains to be seen if the larger bags — they have increased from 15- to 18-inch squares — will lead to a significant increase in the number of stolen bases. That extra size means they’re all a few inches closer, turning things in runners’ favor on bang-bang plays.

MLB had to try to find a way to make speedy legs as much a part of the game as bulky arms, after the total number of homers (5,215) more than doubled stolen bases (2,486) a year ago.

Thirty years ago, at the dawning of the steroids era, stolen bases (3,264) actually eclipsed home runs (3,038).

Both plays are thrilling parts of the game. Baseball is better when they are on more level footing.

We’ll see how it all works out, but kudos to MLB.

At least they’re moving into the 21st century.

A step in the right direction.


Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at) or at


AP freelance writers Gary Schatz and Jack Thompson in Arizona contributed to this column.


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Hawks star Young ejected after hard ball toss to referee

ATLANTA (AP) — Hawks star Trae Young was ejected after heaving the ball hard to referee Scott Wall in the third quarter of Atlanta’s 143-130 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

After Hawks coach Quin Snyder called a timeout in the third quarter with the game tied at 84, Young first bounced the ball and then threw a hard, two-handed pass at Wall, who caught the ball. Young was immediately called for a technical foul and ejected.

Only seconds earlier, Young had an apparent 3-pointer disallowed when he was called for a technical foul for sticking out his leg and tripping Aaron Nesmith.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

Snyder said Young acknowledged his mistake.

“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

The technical foul was Young’s 15th of the season. A 16th technical foul results in an automatic one-game suspension.

Young, who leads Atlanta with his averages of 26.8 points and 10 assists, had 14 points and five assists when he was ejected.

The game was tied at 84 when Young was ejected.

“We didn’t allow it to turn into a negative,” Hawks guard Dejounte Murray said. “We turned it into a positive and got the win.”


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Scheffler, McIlroy at their best to reach Match Play semis

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The golf was as good as it gets. Rory McIlroy made 17 birdies in the 36 holes he played Saturday. Defending champion Scottie Scheffler rallied with six birdies in his last nine holes to reach the semifinals for the third straight year.

A little luck never hurts in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. And as great as McIlroy played, he needed some of that, too.

McIlroy never led in his quarterfinals match against Xander Schauffele. They came to the 18th hole all square, and McIlroy slumped slightly when he saw his drive headed left toward the trees. Schauffele hit his shot and quickly picked up his tee.

Imagine their surprise. McIlroy came upon a golf ball behind a tree and figured it was his. Schauffele was walking behind him and was stunned when McIlroy kept going.

“He hit a worse drive than I did and he ended up fine,” Schauffele said.

He got no argument from McIlroy.

“I expected my ball to be Xander’s ball on 18 behind that tree, and I got fortunate that mine trundled down the hill and obviously made the chip shot a lot easier,” McIlroy said. “Look, you need a little bit of fortune in these things, and that was a bit of luck for me today.”

McIlroy won with a 12-foot birdie putt, the proper ending to a match that both said was a testament to the quality of golf required. Schauffele applauded all the pivotal putts McIlroy made to stay in the fight.

It was like that all over Austin Country Club. The final version of Match Play lived up to its edge-of-the-seat reputation, with wild turns of momentum until four players remained.

Sam Burns advanced by beating Patrick Cantlay in 17 holes and then overcoming an early deficit to beat Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, 3 and 2, to reach the semifinals.

Burns advances to meet Scheffler, his best friend on tour with whom he often shares a house when they’re on the road. Their last encounter was at Colonial last year, when Burns made a 45-foot birdie putt to beat Scheffler in a playoff.

Cameron Young looked as if he had an easy time, until it wasn’t. He was 3 up at the turn, missed a chance to go 4 up on the 12th and then had to go to the 18th hole before he could dispatch of Bay Hill winner Kurt Kitayama.

Scheffler, who lost in the final in his Match Play debut in 2021, now has won 10 straight matches. He was 2 down against J.T. Poston in the morning with five holes left when he birdied the 17th to square the match and won the 18th with a par.

He was 3 down against former Match Play champion Jason Day through seven holes in the quarterfinals when he battled back, taking his first lead with a birdie on the 13th and then pulling away. He closed it out with a wedge to 2 inches on the 17th.

Scheffler said he and caddie Ted Scott had a chat when Day went birdie-birdie-eagle on the front nine to go 3 up. The eagle came on a 5-wood from 282 yards to 5 feet on the par-5 sixth hole at Austin Country Club.

“Just ride out the heater,” Scheffler said. “I had to stay patient.”

Day began to struggle with allergies on the eighth hole, and then Scheffler had a heater of his own by making six birdies over their final nine holes.

McIlroy reached the quarterfinals by making nine birdies against Lucas Herbert, and it still wasn’t decided until the 18th hole.

“I got to beaten by the best player in the world probably playing the best golf of anyone in the world would today,” Herbert said. “Pushed him all the way to the end. I just didn’t feel like there was a hell of a lot more I could have done.”

Schauffele made seven birdies against McIlroy and it wasn’t enough.

“I needed to dig deep,” McIlroy said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. I knew I was going to need to produce something similar to this morning. I was 16 under for two rounds of golf. That shows the caliber you need to play out there.”

Next up for McIlroy is Young, who finished ahead of him at St. Andrews last year with a 31 on the back nine. Young has made 31 birdies and two eagles in his five matches this week. He won his group on Friday with a 5-and-3 win. He made it through Saturday morning with a 5-and-4 rout of Billy Horschel. He was on his way to another romp against Kitayama.

But he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 12th that would have put him 4 up. Kitayama won the next two holes with birdies. Young missed from 10 feet for birdie, 15 feet for eagle and 10 feet for birdie on the next three, all three putts burning the edge.

Ultimately, he only needed two putts from 15 feet on the 18th for the win. That was about the only easy part of his back nine.

“I don’t think I made a bogey today and I was biting my nails trying to win my match,” Young said. “I think it just shows you the quality of golf that’s played out here and how hard it is to get through even just one day like today, never mind that today was our fifth match.”

Day earlier on Saturday beat Matt Kuchar, leaving the 44-year-old American one match short of the tournament record. Kuchar leaves sharing the mark of 36 wins with Tiger Woods.

Now it’s Scheffler’s turn. Woods is the only player to win Match Play back to back. One day remains, and it feels like a long way to go.


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Gonzaga’s Drew Timme ends storied career in loss to UConn

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gonzaga was down 10 points early in the second half Saturday night in the West Region final against UConn, but Julian Strawther had just secured a defensive rebound, and perhaps the Bulldogs had a run in them.

But then came a whistle. Zags forward Drew Timme had picked up his fourth foul. Shortly thereafter, it became clear that Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament run would end.

Without him, the third-seeded Bulldogs weren’t a match for No. 4 seed UConn, which pulled away to win 82-54 and end Timme’s college career.

Timme, who gained fame for his masterful inside moves and world-class mustache, put together perhaps the finest college career in recent memory. He was a throwback for his crafty low-post game and for spending four years at the same school.

“I’m just so thankful that the program and the place took me for who I was,” Timme said. “They didn’t ask me to be anybody but myself. I’m forever in debt for Gonzaga, just the love I have for just everyone that helped me and made this journey so special and so fun. I just don’t think I could ever repay that.

“I’d do anything for Gonzaga. I always will. This isn’t a goodbye; it’s a see-you-later.”

The emotions were clear on Timme’s red face, which he covered with a towel a handful of times. He sniffled as the postgame news conference was about to begin.

But Timme held it together when the questions came, including about the fourth foul less than three minutes into the second half. That came after he was whistled for a charge just 26 seconds into the half.

“The bottom line is they were the better team tonight,” Timme said of UConn. “They made more shots. They got the 50-50 balls. Regardless of whether we want to say what-ifs, the refs didn’t control that game.”

Timme, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Huskies, departs knowing he left a mark not only at Gonzaga but on college hoops.

He owns the Gonzaga record with 2,307 points and led the Zags to the Sweet 16 in each of the past three seasons and the national title game in 2021.

“I think he’s one of the greatest college players in this modern era,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s won at the highest level. We leaned on him as hard as we’ve ever leaned on a player, and he delivered time and time and time again.

“But that’s just a small piece of it. He’s a bigger-than-life character. It was a blast to coach him.”

Gonzaga will have a new man in the middle next season, and the Bulldogs got a taste of that experience will be like when Timme sat for about three minutes and UConn rolled to a 58-37 lead.

By the time Timme re-entered the game, the Huskies were well on their way to their fourth double-digit victory in as many games.

Had Timme never picked up that fourth foul, the Huskies likely still would have pulled away, but the call altered the tone of the game and sped up the rout.

“You try to stay positive,” Bulldogs forward Anton Watson said. “We brought the team together and tried to keep positive thoughts and try to keep chipping away at that lead, but it’s hard when Drew goes out.”

It was another disappointing end to the season for Gonzaga, which is still searching for its first national championship. Expectations were low it would happen this year, so making the Elite Eight was a win in itself.

The Zags can thank Timme, who entered the game leading the team with averages of 21.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, for helping get them there.

“I don’t think anybody thought we would make it this far this year,” Timme said. “Just the stuff we overcame as a group and how we stayed together, I think, speaks volumes to who we are as people, more than players.”


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