— No matter what the purists tell you, there is no “correct” way to play baseball, and if people tell you, “This is the way the game should be played,” they’re usually saying more about their prejudices than about baseball.
That said, the baseball during the All-Star Game was perfect.
There were two ways to miss the contest. The first was by not tuning in. The second was by looking away from the screen for a minute.
This was the story for six innings in Anaheim Tuesday night. Those who tuned in to the All-Star Game were treated to a baseball game as crisp and pretty as a $100 bill.
It got a little untidy in the seventh, when the Nationals scored three runs and the Americans threatened but couldn’t deliver. That was a brand of baseball that had traditionalists sighing in contentment. All the action was crammed into one inning.
They’ll tell you this is the way the game should be played. It had been billed as a celebration of the best young crop of pitchers baseball has seen in years, and that’s what it was. But for an error, there would have been no score for those first six innings.
Normally, only David Ortiz is slower than an All-Star game. It starts too late, and there are more commercials than most viewers feel are absolutely necessary. You get frequent substitutions. You tune into this game, you don’t expect to get to bed before midnight — and that’s on the West Coast.
Tuesday night, those first six innings flashed by in fewer than two hours. And even with a long seventh inning, the game was done before midnight on the East Coast. That’s hardly a civilized hour, but it's not worth complaining about.
It’s far better to marvel at how quickly this game went and how much fun it was to watch Andy Pettitte get through an inning on nine pitches and Cliff Lee do it in six. It was brilliant. Pettitte and Lee showing that finesse works and everybody else busting 98 mph fastballs past the best hitters in the world.
And it wasn’t boring. The American League had it chances. It had eight shots at hitting with runners in scoring position and came up with zero hits and one sacrifice fly. The Nationals had just one hit with runners in scoring position, but that bases-clearing double by Brian McCann won the game.
After all those years of juice-ball, watching pitching is refreshing. It forces you to pay attention, because hits and baserunners are rare and precious events. Runs are as hard to come by as soccer goals, except in this game, booting the ball is not a good thing and catching it is.
We can’t have this as an everyday occurrence. We’re having fun this year marveling at all the wonderful young pitches, and this All-Star Game was a classic. But baseball tried letting pitchers have their way with the hitters back in the 1960s, and while those who saw it remain in awe of the pitching in 1968, too many people stopped watching. After a while, it gets boring watching hitters flail at baseballs like drunks trying to hit houseflies with chopsticks.
When everybody is brilliant, then brilliance has no meaning. It becomes ordinary. That’s what happened in 1968, when the brilliant pitching was the result of baseball fiddling with the rules to give hurlers huge advantages.
If when runs are always harder to come by than honest politicians, kids — and adults — move on to something with more action. Fortunately, there’s no danger of that happening. For all the great pitchers, there are plenty of mediocre ones who are more than capable of keeping games interesting and runs flowing across the plate. This explosion of pitching isn’t the result of rules changes. It’s the result of brilliant young talents who don’t have to deal with hitters with bulging engorged on PEDs.
We saw the best of what they can do Tuesday night. They put the classic back in midsummer. They gave us a new reason to watch the national pastime.
Heck, they even gave the National League its first win this century. The last time the Nationals won, in 1996, they also had home-field advantage in the World Series. The Yankees won anyway.
Some things never change.