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Thursday, June 16, 2011
Deadball-era action?

By Christina Kahrl

Give me that old-time... well, not religion, but what, a ballgame? Because if you wanted to hop in the wayback machine, the White Sox-Twins tilt on Thursday was exactly the sort of action that a fan of the Deadball Era could have dug him- or herself into. In what represented something of a perfect storm of pitch efficiency, Nick Blackburn delivered the first eight zeroes in the Twins' 1-0 shutout victory, but by achieving a lone strikeout while surrendering 10 baserunners against the free-swinging Sox, Blackburn did more than get by with a little help from his friends.

Minnesota's Nick Blackburn
Nick Blackburn pitched eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the White Sox that lasted just over two hours.
The White Sox's Mark Buehrle was no slouch either, managing 27 batters in seven innings, allowing just six baseruners, striking out three (and Tsuyoshi Nishioka twice) -- but also allowing the lone run, on Michael Cuddyer's second-inning solo shot. All of that action was wrapped up in just over two hours. Admittedly, Buehrle's such a fast worker that he often beats the commercial break between half-innings, so if you're watching his starts on TV, you may still miss a half-dozen pitches' worth of action or more.

As a result, on some level this game had everything a so-called traditionalist might want: a short, quickly played game, few strikeouts, good pitching. It wasn't truly a Deadball Era outcome, in that the game's lone run scored on a homer instead of a suicide squeeze or something. Then again, for all the overplayed "Twins play baseball the right way" meme -- something has to get trotted out to explain Matt Tolbert -- they take their home runs when they come, same as everybody else, even when they can no longer expect them from Justin Morneau, let alone Delmon Young.

But the outcome leaves me wondering if there are folks in the chatterocracy who can be pleased by anything about baseball, if they aren't hailing this particular game as that special thing that reminds them somehow of the high-mound era of the '60s. That has everything to do with fans of a certain age -- shucks, let's just call them Baby Boomers -- and less to do with the game's evergreen entertain value. Regardless, you're always going to have some element of the commentariat complaining about games being too long, no matter how long they are, or scoring, no matter how low it gets, or strikeouts, no matter how few there might be in a fast-pitch, pitch-to-contact showdown like a Buehrle/Blackburn duel.

Happily enough, Twins fans seem to have disagreed, as much as you can say anything about intent on the basis of single-game attendance, but the fanny count for the game was listed over 39,000, so obviously people are willing to pay for the product. Keep in mind, this is a year-after effect for a Twins team that gets to playoffs fairly regularly, so this is less an endorsement of how much excitement paying customers feel for Rene Rivera or Jason Repko or Luke Hughes than it does for their faith in a team that employs Joe Mauer and Denard Span and Jim Thome. That's the danger of being a season-ticket buyer, but Blackburn and company didn't disappoint.

To my mind, the question is less about the accidental coincidence of Thursday day-game attendance in a 1-0 two-hour sprint (at least by contemporary standards), but whether or not this is really the sort of ballgame people want to see more of, or whether they want to see more homers or more strikeouts, or more simply a bit more than two hours of action for their money. If some people want shorter games, and some of them want fewer strikeouts, is this the sort of game they want to see more of? Maybe, but if I'd made the trek to see a game with that ubiquitous family of four that gets dredged up in every study of game-related expenses, and then been done in less time than it took me to drive there and back, maybe it's just me, but I'd feel a bit cheated.