Somewhere between the Milwaukee Brewers’ star reliever Josh Hader’s pitching out of a jam in the eighth inning and the start of the bottom of the ninth during Tuesday night’s National League Championship Series Game 4, I got up to take a shower.
“Where are you going?” one roommate asked. “Don’t you want to just wait until the game ends? It’s the bottom of the ninth — the game is almost over.”
Glancing back at the television, I scoffed. The Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers had been locked in a pitcher’s dual since Milwaukee tied the game at 1-1 in the fifth inning.
“This game is probably going to go until, like, the 13th inning,” I responded, rolling my eyes.
Not to my surprise, that’s exactly what happened.
In the bottom of the 13th, Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger ripped a screaming walk-off single to right field, allowing shortstop Manny Machado to score from second base to win the game — five hours and 15 minutes after the first pitch.
Despite the fact that the two teams had scored only two runs after the first nine innings of baseball, by the time Bellinger’s teammates ripped the jersey off his body in celebration at around midnight PST, an entire lifetime of baseball had been played.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has expressed his concern that younger viewers are less interested in baseball than other sports. Rather than worrying solely about the pace-of-play and these low-scoring, extra-inning games, Manfred should move up the start times of playoff games to retain younger viewers who miss out on most of the game’s action in favor of sleep. Such a change would also keep the interest of fans who work and cannot stay up past midnight.
Tuesday’s game, although slow-paced, was filled with drama.
In the eighth inning, the Brewers used two challenges during the course of Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier’s at-bat: the first to challenge the failure to call fan interference on a foul ball, and the second to see if Dozier had beat out a throw at first and whether first baseman Max Muncy, running to second, had violated the slide rule. Both challenges delayed the game considerably.
Before his walk-off heroics, Bellinger made an incredible superman diving catch in right field — a position in which he never started this season — in the top of the 10th inning to prevent what could have set up a fatal Brewers scoring opportunity.
Half an inning later, Machado caused both team’s benches to clear when he appeared to step on the back of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar’s leg. Machado was later fined for the transgression.
The move invoked memories of a suspension Machado served in 2014 for throwing his bat in the direction of third base during a game between his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Oakland Athletics.
Though Machado and Aguilar made nice after the game on Tuesday, Christian Yelich was clearly fired up by the incident.
Although Tuesday’s game was packed with intensity, the game may have epitomized Manfred’s worst nightmare. As a fierce advocate for quickening baseball’s pace-of-play, over his three years as commissioner, Manfred has implemented a number of rules to speed up the action in baseball this season — to no avail, as was seen on Tuesday.
What was wrong with Tuesday’s pace-of-play besides the fact that the game lasted over five hours? First, the start time was set at 6:09 PM PST, meaning the game ended around midnight on the West coast, 1 a.m. for Brewers fans in Milwaukee and close to 2 a.m. for displaced east coast fans.
Second, instant replay — a somewhat new phenomenon in baseball — all but halted the pace of the eighth inning, just as the game’s action was picking back up. Finally, almost no one scored the entire game, meaning fans looking for a flashier game — I’m looking at you, NBA fans — could have lost interest quickly.
Yet, after being criticized for its lack of energy at the previous night’s NLCS game, Dodger Stadium was rocking.
The Dodger fan base, which is notorious for leaving games early to beat traffic, stayed all five hours and 15 minutes, even as the game approached midnight and fans risked sitting in the stadium parking lot for up to an hour in postgame traffic jams.
In other words, Dodger fans illustrated that the pace-of-play question may be irrelevant in October.
Perhaps the riveting tensions and strategies that postseason baseball provides — who doesn’t love a team pitching entirely out of their bullpen? — are enough to hold even the most casual baseball fans’ attention for the duration of these insanely long games.
Or, better yet, maybe pace-of-play isn’t the issue at all. Because the game spent the better part of two hours in “sudden death” mode, it arguably invoked more nail-biting anxiety than any other sport’s postseason would. Between the fascinating pitching strategies, controversial calls and extra-innings, fans didn’t turn this game off out of boredom — and anyone who did is a lost cause to baseball fandom anyway.
They turned it off because they were tired.Until Manfred adjusts the start times of games, expect every fan during postseason baseball to be sleep deprived. For many fans, most of baseball’s best moments are happening after midnight.