Some say baseball has a pace of play problem. Fans who sit through marathon games say it. Viewers who find it hard to sit down and watch nine innings on television say it. Even the commissioner of Major League Baseball says it.
But “baseball” doesn’t have a pace of play problem. Only certain brands of baseball do. Only certain styles of games contribute to the issue.
For instance, Clemson played nine smooth innings against Elon on Friday. Innings were quick. The pitching was exceptional. Every at-bat had to be contested at a high level, or else an out would ensue.
Those nine innings took around two-and-a-half hours, far from a boring slog. It was an action-packed, tension-filled contest by two teams desperate to start a weekend series off on a positive note.
Friday’s game was everything the proverbial “they” say baseball is not. There was only one problem: No one had scored.
So the teams kept playing. They played, and played, and played, for another hour-plus. Four innings later, Clemson finally prevailed by the slimmest of margins after a Seth Beer walkoff single plated Robert Jolly for the game’s only run.
For diehard fans of the game, Friday provided a rare glimpse into baseball at its purest form. The pitchers held all the cards, and they played them well. Hitters were retired one at a time for what seemed like a short eternity.
Charlie Barnes twirled a gem for the Tigers that will likely never be topped in his career. The southpaw pitched 7.2 innings of shutout baseball, allowing six hits and no walks with a career-high 11 strikeouts. He was almost outdueled by Elon’s Ryan Conroy, who finished one out short of a nine-inning outing allowing six hits and striking out three.
The bullpens were elite, too—especially Clemson’s closer. Riley Gilliam retired 13 of the 15 batters he faced in relief, striking out a whopping nine batters in the process. That included consecutive strikeouts with runners on second and third and one out to end the top of the 11th.
The Tigers set a school record for strikeouts with 23 in the game, breaking the previous mark of 21 that was only tied once after it was established 94 years earlier—in 1952. In other words, Clemson broke a record that almost stood for a century and had not been equaled in 65 years—and it still couldn’t win until the 13th inning.
Clemson needed a win like this. After all the talk about new faces and Seth Beer and balance and scoring runs in the offseason, the pitchers faded into the background. On Friday night, with the team’s bats silenced, they were forced into the forefront—and they delivered.
It took three hours and 42 minutes, but the game was not slow. The pitchers made sure that was the case. The fans that remained for the duration were treated to a show, complete with a grand finale.