When the day start, Atlanta Braves fans knew that there were going to be some differences in the game viewing experience. The bases were going to be bigger, the game was going to go by faster, and some weird calls with automatic balls and strikes were going to be in play.
What nobody thought was that the new rules were going to decide the game in such blatant fashion in the very first game.
Lets set the stage for a second. The Red Sox held a sizable lead going into the ninth inning before spring training reared its ugly head for a poor Red Sox pitcher. He could not find the strike zone to save his life and all of a sudden, the bases were loaded with two out and the game was tied 6-6. Braves prospect Cal Conley came to the plate. While he probably should have just struck out normally earlier in the at-bat, instead....this happened.
Just for clarity's sake, the home plate umpire ruled that at the 8 second mark on the pitch clock (which is when batters have to be in the box and attentive to the pitcher, Conley was looking down. Under the new rules, that means an automatic strike is called and in this case, that meant the end of the at-bat and thus the game.
This feels like ticky-tacky rules lawyering, but in the end...it is just spring training
There is a lot going on here. The batter has to be firmly set with his eyes only set on the pitcher while the catcher can be standing up behind home plate clearly not ready to receive a pitch? Does this rule have to be called this strictly to be effective? Does MLB really want games decided this way? Again, a lot to think about but Braves manager Brian Snitker had a good take on it.
While I don't think the Red Sox were intentionally trying to be distracting with the catcher behind the plate standing around or whatever, but the end result ultimately doesn't feel great. The umpire comes off as being too much of a hard ass (he may have been), the game feels anticlimactic, and the rules feel draconian in a way that isn't pleasing to anybody.
But here is the thing: at the end of the day, it is spring training for everyone. Umpires "probably" aren't going to locked in on a batter's eyes right at the 8 second mark all the time looking for an excuse to call an automatic strike. Pitchers and hitters are all going to be getting used to the new rhythms of the game and that doesn't even take into account that prospects are probably going to be more likely to struggle adjusting just because they are going to struggle more with...well...everything.
No one disagrees that ending a game on a called automatic strike on that type of ruling feels great. However, the umpires have been instructed to be strict with these calls to get everyone in line and you really want all of these issues to get ironed out now. The Braves were the first high profile victims of the new rules of baseball, but hopefully we will all be laughing about this as a silly spring training story and not dealing with this sort of nonsense too much when the games actually matter.