Braves feel pain of pitch clock in tie with Red Sox

AP photo by Brynn Anderson / The Boston Red Sox play the Atlanta Braves during a Grapefruit League exhibition game Saturday at spring training in North Port, Fla.

Cal Conley of the Atlanta Braves thought he had just won the game with a two-out, bases-loaded, walk-off walk on Saturday.

He took a few steps toward first base, bat still in hand, when umpire John Libka jumped out from behind the plate and indicated strike three.

Game over. Conley couldn't believe it. Neither could his teammates. Fans booed.

Welcome to 2023, when Major League Baseball's new rules designed to improve pace of play are coming fast at everyone, particularly the players.

The most dramatic moment of the new pitch clock era arrived on the first full day of exhibition games in Arizona and Florida, and in the most dramatic scenario possible. Conley, facing reliever Robert Kwiatkowski of the Boston Red Sox, wasn't set in the box and alert to the pitcher as the clock wound under eight seconds.

The penalty is an automatic strike, which led to the game in North Port, Florida, finishing in a 6-6 tie. Kwiatkowski got the strikeout after throwing only two real strikes.

It was a far more dramatic moment than when San Diego Padres slugger Manny Machado on Friday became the first MLB player to draw a pitch clock violation when he was called for an automatic strike in the bottom of the first inning against the Seattle Mariners because he wasn't set in the box in time.

Machado was hardly fazed — he singled on a 2-1 pitch, then collected another single his second time up — and laughed about it afterward.

"Going into the record books, at least. That's a good one. Not bad," Machado said. "I might just be 0-1 if I can get two hits every game."

The Mariners won 3-2 in 2 hours, 29 minutes, which is fast for any game, spring or regular season.

The pitch clock is one of the new rules designed to speed pace of play.

Players will have 30 seconds to resume play between batters. Between pitches, pitchers have 15 seconds with nobody on and 20 seconds if there is a baserunner. The pitcher must start his delivery before the clock expires. After a pitch, the clock starts again when the pitcher has the ball back, the catcher and batter are in the circle around home plate, and play is otherwise ready to resume.

When a pitcher doesn't throw in time, the penalty is an automatic ball. When a batter isn't ready in time, it's an automatic strike.