NEW YORK – The wild-card game is a wonderful, fantastic, stupendous idea… in theory, anyway. The games are always energizing and almost always riveting.
Now if only someone could stay up to see them.
For those who didn’t make it to the conclusion of the playoff season opener (just about everyone on the East Coast, I assume), the Yankees beat the Twins, ending Minnesota’s gloriously surprising season, in a game that ended on Wednesday on the East Coast after beginning squarely on Tuesday.
I am too sleepy-eyed to remember the score, but I believe it was something along the lines of 8-4??? (Yes, that was it, my computer neighbor assures me.)
This game was too much, and I mean that. The hitters hit too much. The pitchers threw too many pitches outside the strike zone. And everybody took too damn long.
I get it. Every great play can bring glory. Every screw-up ignominy. So no one makes a move, at least not without thinking hard and long about it.
But this is getting ridiculous. At some point we may have to ask ourselves: If no one sees it, does it still count?
Midnight is a time for runs, riders and cowboys. Night baseball is fine; midnight baseball is not.
Somewhere along the way, the Yankees’ MVP candidate Aaron Judge hit a laser of homer (18 degree launch angle!), old friend David Robertson combined with Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman to pitch 8.2 heroic innings sometime after Luis Severino laid an egg (as the “bullpenning” championers like Brian Kenny predicted he would) and the Yankees overcame a quick three-zip deficit to outlast the Twins. And I mean outlast, in every sense of the word.
The wild-card format is great, and it’s obvious why it lends itself to long games – the season is literally riding on every movement. But something needs to be done about the start time. I don’t want to hear that ESPN insists. ESPN doesn’t care about doing what’s right for baseball, anyway. If it did, it wouldn’t have quit covering the sport years ago.
The 8:00 ET start, combined with the tension-filled competition and two middling pitching staffs, makes for a very long night, so long that only insomniacs and second-shifters are awake to see it. By the fourth inning, it was 10 p.m., 201 pitches were thrown and two hours and seven minutes had elapsed, as Yahoo’s Jeff Passan pointed out on twitter. So, by the way, had much belief the game could end the day it started.
Two hours and seven minutes. That’s the time it takes (for world-class) marathoners to negotiate 26 miles, 285 yards. But by then we still had another marathon to go.
By that point, all hope was lost that any kids (or adults with a life) would be up to see the conclusion of what looked like the start of an amazing slugfest. Brian Dozier, Eddie Rosario, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge all had homered in the first half of the game, so a lot of action was crammed in early.
The wild card really should be awesome. It’s great that the difference between winning the division and having to settle for a wild card spot is stark. It’s great that it’s do-or-die. To those who scream “No fair!” I say finish first.
Teams that don’t finish first deserve the anxiety that comes with a wild-card game. But the fans don’t deserve these hours. There was plenty of play, yes, but absolutely no pace. People who love baseball deserve better.
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