Two games into spring training, and we have a solution for the 2021 Red Sox: The Little League Mercy Rule.
It’s a new preseason thing. If you are getting crushed by your opponent, you can stop an inning once your pitcher has thrown more than 20 pitches in a frame. Alex Cora ran up the white flag three times in seven innings of Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Braves and has invoked the slaughter clause four times in the first two games, both losses.
The Sox should petition MLB to make this an option during the regular season. No more jail-break innings. Everybody goes home feeling good about themselves, even on a day when you commit five errors and three times walk off the field before getting a third out.
This was my top takeaway after getting my first look at the 2021 Tampa Bay Red Sox. On FuboTV.
I watched on Fubo because the bosses at NESN have made watching the Sox harder than ever. NESN was dropped by YouTube TV last fall after negotiations between the two parties broke down. This meant that a large chunk of Boston baseball watchers had to scramble, and many steered toward Fubo, which just happens to be the top overall streaming service for futbol, offering 32 soccer channels.
Loyal baseball fans (remember them?) who dumped YouTube TV for a NESN carrier were doubly disappointed Sunday when the Sox exhibition opener against the Twins was not televised on the flagship. Imagine that. You have a sagging last-place team with little star power, aggressively cutting costs on player payroll … and you make it hard for your remaining loyalists to watch the team and perhaps learn the names of some of your faceless new players. Genius.
After paying my new streaming bill, and learning the bells and whistles of Fubo, I navigated around the menu’s soccer smorgasbord and found the Sox NESN broadcast at 1 p.m. I couldn’t wait to get a look at Garrett Richards’s vaunted spin rate.
The view of JetBlue Park and the dulcet tones of Dave O’Brien made me warm all over. It was good to hear OB alongside Jerry Remy, who told us it was 84 degrees at the sunny ballpark. For a moment, I longed to be back in Fort Myers, but then O’Brien said he and the RemDawg were broadcasting from their Watertown studios, no more than a mile from where I was sitting on the Brighton/Newton border.
Atlanta’s leadoff hitter Ronald Acuña Jr., slapped Richards’s third pitch to left for a double. I could not detect the spin rate on the pitch, and NESN provided no fancy graphic on the new metric. When Remy spoke of “spin rate,” he said it means “curveball.” The Globe’s Alex Speier, a.k.a. “Stat Masterson,” informs me that spin rate is measured by the Hawk-Eye system (best-known to tennis watchers), which calculates revolutions per minute.
Richards is 32 years old and once threw 22 wild pitches in a season. He retired only one of six batters he faced in the first inning, surrendering a double, two singles, two walks, and fanning one. When he walked William Contreras to give the Braves a 2-0 lead, the mercy rule was invoked, sending both teams to the dugout even though the Braves only had one out.
Watching from Vermont, Bill Lee asked if all of the Red Sox were going to get a participation trophy at the end of this season.
Richards retired the Braves 1-2-3 on eight pitches in the second. He got great help from right fielder César Puello, who snagged a Cristian Pache shot that would have landed in the bullpen. Richards threw 31 pitches to get his four outs and had catcher Jett Bandy sprawling in the dirt throughout.
The only spin rate I could detect was Remy concluding that Richards had a “good first outing” and O’Brien telling me that the Sox’ pitching depth was light-years ahead of what they had here last year. Perhaps. But let’s not go all Scal two games into spring training. Starters Richards and Nate Eovaldithrew a combined 69 pitches to get eight outs in the Sox’ first two games. And both needed the spring training bailout plan.
It was weird to see only a couple of thousand fans in the stands. It reminded me of my childhood days watching the eighth-place Pinky Higgins Red Sox.
The Sox rallied for a run on four walks in the bottom of the second. The mercy rule was invoked by Cora again in the third when Contreras’s bases-loaded, two-run single gave Atlanta a 4-1 lead with two outs against lefty Kyle Hart.
In 14 innings over two games, the Sox have committed seven errors and four times abandoned an inning to get back to the safety of their dugout without retiring the side. Too bad they can’t use the bailout plan during the regular season.
Ned Martin would have loved it: Mercy.