TEMPE, Ariz. -- With two outs, two on and the Giants holding a 2-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the bottom of the third inning at Sloan Park, Sam Long faced the type of situation that has brought games to a screeching halt in recent years.
Powerful right-hander Trey Mancini strolled to the plate and the number 20 flashed on multiple pitch-clock boards around the ballpark, including two behind the plate. Long delivered the first pitch with five seconds to spare, getting a swinging strike on a breaking ball in the dirt. Mancini stepped out of the box as a new ball was put into play, and then promptly dug back in and took a strike. Long took a bit more time on his third pitch, checking both runners before he went into his delivery, but still threw it with three seconds left on the clock, getting a foul ball back to the screen.
On the fourth pitch, Long again checked both runners and then went into his delivery with eight seconds left. Mancini took a ball and then stood right in place, staring at the sky for a second but not fidgeting with his batting gloves or stepping out or doing any of the moves that have become so commonplace for hitters.
Twelve seconds later, Long threw him another pitch and Mancini lined it into right field for an RBI single.
The whole sequence took less than two minutes. It was crisp. It was competitive. It happened without complaint. Everyone survived.
Welcome to baseball in 2023.
"It's nice, the pace is nice. Obviously, the pace slowed down considerably (at the end) but under the circumstances. I think it's going to be a really good rule for Major League Baseball," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It's going to make things faster, more enjoyable for the fans, and just a better brand in my opinion."
The official time of game was three hours, six minutes, which was three minutes longer than the average MLB game in 2022. But given the circumstances, the Giants and Cubs were absolutely flying through nine innings.
The Giants lost 10-8 in a game that included 25 hits, six errors and 15 pitchers. As the Giants walked out of the dugout, one team member asked if that exact game would have gone past the four-hour mark last spring. Another person joked that it would have been closer to five hours.
The first taste of life in the Pitch Clock Era taught the Giants a few lessons about what needs to be fixed over the next month. It was hard at times to decipher when violations had been called, but the estimate was that there were five of them in all. The Giants had two for not finishing warmup pitches in time between innings -- they must be done with 30 seconds left in the break -- and Casey Schmitt was put into an 0-1 count during an at-bat for not getting into the box in time. Starter Tristan Beck was hit with one while facing Cody Bellinger, but he got the former Dodgers star to fly out a few seconds later.
The most notable moment came in Long's inning, when veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer called time and then had a conversation with home plate umpire Nick Mahrley. Long had been working quickly, as he did before the pitch clock arrived, throwing most of his pitches with somewhere around eight seconds left on the clock.
But on a 2-2 count with two outs and two runners in scoring position, Long used some gamesmanship. He held the ball as long as he could and Hosmer called time as the clock approached zero.
"He felt a little uncomfortable," catcher Blake Sabol said. "(Long) had a long hold, the clock was ticking down. (Hosmer) called time before we could get a pitch off and he was like, 'Is that not a ball yet?'"
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After Hosmer used his one timeout, Long sped back up. He threw a fastball with eight seconds left on the clock and struck Hosmer out to end the inning. Hosmer had a long conversation with the home plate umpire afterward, part of the theme for both teams on the first day with a clock.
Before the game, Kapler and Cubs manager David Ross had a lengthy talk with umpires as they exchanged lineup cards (in a funny twist, the only real delay on this day came at the beginning, with the first pitch being thrown four minutes late). Kapler also called Mahrley over a couple of times during the game to ask questions.
"I think everybody on that field was smarter after game one than they were before game one," Kapler said. "We'll incrementally get better as we go through the spring."