FORT MYERS, FLA. – Joey Gallo was on third base Saturday when history happened: The first violation of baseball's new rule restricting defensive shifts in the infield. Umpires waved their arms and stopped play, and Gallo made a logical assumption. He jogged home and scored.
"There could be some rulings on the field where not everyone is positive what just happened," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the first ever mix-up — and there figure to be plenty more this spring — about the new rules. "I'm not positive exactly what plays out."
Turns out, the penalty for a shift violation, in this instance Rays second baseman Vidal Brujan standing directly behind second base, is a ball charged to the pitcher, not a free base. Gallo was sent back to third, and the Twins and Rays received Lesson No. 1 about this new era of baseball: "We're all learning on the fly a little bit here," as Rays manager Kevin Cash put it.
Still, Saturday's Grapefruit League opener was a surprisingly smooth introduction to baseball with a pitch clock, bigger bases and the shift restrictions. Pitchers delivered each pitch within 15 seconds of receiving the ball, or 20 seconds if a runner was on base. Hitters were at the plate within 25 seconds of the previous play ending, and were in the batter's box, ready to hit, with at least eight seconds on the clock.
"The game kept moving, but I didn't see anyone rushed," Baldelli said. "That might be different on different days, but that's the goal — keep things flowing. Just keep the game going. And it did."
The game, an 8-4 Twins victory, took two hours and 31 minutes to complete eight and a half innings, shorter than all but seven Twins games last season.
"I didn't hear anyone complaining," Cash noted. "You like the pace of the game. It's going to take a little while for guys to get used to it, but trust that they will."
There appeared to be subtle ways that players can buy extra seconds here and there, nothing that circumvents the spirit of the rules but instead can give a pitcher a moment or two to collect themselves. After a foul ball, for instance, catchers prefer to throw a new ball back to pitchers themselves — perhaps after a bit of hesitation, since the clock starts once the pitcher receives it — rather than have the umpire toss a new one to the mound.
"For the players and the umpires and the clock operators even, it's all meant to be within reason," Baldelli said. "I don't think the goal is to get the game going as fast as possible. It's just to keep it at a good pace."
The confusion over Brujan's violation was the day's only glitch, and a surprising one, Baldelli said.
"I thought we could go 190 or 200 games this year, combined and maybe not see one," the manager said. "But we got though about what, two innings and there it was. So we did get a chance to see how that plays out."
They did — with confusion. Even afterward, questions remained. The Rays were wondering why the infraction was called at all, because play was stopped before pitcher Josh Fleming delivered the pitch. The rule states that the second baseman must be on the right side of second base when the pitch is released.
Cash said he discussed the call with crew chief Marvin Hudson, but "we've got to get a little bit more information about it. … It's one thing in theory to [explain] it on Zoom calls [before camp opened], but when it actually comes into play, it's good [to talk about it]. He'll find out what is correct and what is not."