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HOUSTON — Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred exchanged a handshake with players’ union head Tony Clark on the field before the World Series opener and expressed optimism about reaching an agreement before the current deal expires Dec. 1 but did not detail any progress in talks that appear headed to a lockout.

“Have you ever heard me say that I’m anything but optimistic about getting an agreement?” Manfred said. “I am a believer in the process. We’re meeting on a regular basis, and I’m hopeful we find a way to get an agreement by Dec. 1.”

There is no evidence of progress toward an agreement, and many management officials and player agents have said they are prepared for a lockout if there is no deal when the current agreement expires.

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“It’s hard to characterize progress,” said Manfred, who was the league's chief negotiator before becoming commissioner in 2015. “Progress is, you go in a room, you’re having conversations. People are continuing to talk. It doesn’t move in any measurable way that I’ve ever figured out, anyways, and I’ve done it a long time.

“The most important point is that I know our clubs are 100 percent committed to the idea that they want an agreement by Dec. 1.”

Clark said talks have been ongoing and he's “looking to take advantage of as many days as the schedule permits throughout the course of the next five-plus weeks or so to continue that dialogue.”

Pitch clock

An experiment with a pitch clock in Low-A West encouraged MLB officials about it’s use. The 316 nine-inning games with the clock averaged 2 hours, 41 minutes, down from 3:02 for the 91 games without a clock. The clock was set at 15 seconds with bases empty and 17 seconds with runners on base, with 30 seconds between batters and 2:15 between half-innings and for pitching changes.

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“Certainly encouraging,” Manfred said. “Game times in the 2:40s, which is a really sort of nice number when you think about it in comparison to where we’ve been. I think maybe more important than that is that people that go and watch the games feel like the pace of the game, the action in the game has really been improved, that it actually alters the requirement of moving along pitching, kind of changes the game the way it’s played a little bit. And that would be a useful change for us."

The average time of a nine-inning game was a record 3:10:07 during the regular season, up from 3:07:46 for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 3:05:35 in 2019. Postseason games have averaged 3:37:03 this year, up from 3:32:05 last year, and the League Championship Series averaged 3:41:30.