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The Best Baseball Games Have A Lot Of Baseball In Them

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 01: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 congratulates Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres after his solo homerun during the sixth inning of Game Two of the National League Wild Card Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at PETCO Park on October 01, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

This being the weirdest baseball postseason since 1919, we have come to expect far more from these 16 teams (well, 10 now) than we had a right to think could be had. I mean, you can still hope that there’s some new Arnold Rothstein working the levers, but until we see more evidence that there is an unseen hand at work, we can only sit back and enjoy things we used to say we despise.

Like the four-hour game, for instance.

Baseball’s biggest problem isn’t that games last a long time as much as it is the fact that they feel like they last a long time. The endless expanse of nothing happening but walks and strikeouts and endless pitching changes and dawdling outside the box getting signs from the third base coach which will promptly be ignored … well, yeah, they’re all still there. But the difference this year is that YOU HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO, and whether you’re working from home or schooling the kids until the actual schools figure out to hold their attention via Zoom, YOU STILL HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO. This may not be a great marketing slogan, but it may be the new baseball paradigm. You’re trapped, so watch baseball.

And so you’ve been given baseball, and more than you would normally want.

Reds-Braves Game 1 lasted 4 hours and 39 minutes and had no runs from either team into the 13th, but since no playoff game had ever happened like that, it kept sucking the audience in to see how it would turn out. Game 2 was mostly a revelation for Cincinnati’s continued inability to hit, which became almost Jayson-Stark-numerology-level perverse (21 baserunners, 35 strikeouts in the two games), and between that and Minnesota’s 17th and 18th consecutive playoff losses allowed the schadenfreude aficionados among you to get your fix.

Yankees-Indians Game 2 was the longest nine-inning game in history (4:50) and other than the 1:13 in rain delays (in which you could hit the bathroom, make dinner, clean the dishes and put the kids to bed and then get back to the game), but there were still 19 runs and 37 baserunners and and managers frantically wrestling with the three-batter minimum and still changing pitchers 10 times. In other words, unless you just happen to hate baseball in which case why are you still reading this, you cloth-eared bint, you got everything you wanted.

There was White Sox-A’s Game 3, which lasted 4:09 and was largely Ramon Laureano’s breakout moment as an in-game analyst amid a Glastonbury of pitching changes. The latter, which while not necessarily visually arresting, was fun for people who like to see managers desperately trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle in a collapsing home. Seventeen pitchers (one per half-inning) made armchair managers happy, and Laureano blurting out an F-bomb while chasing down a base hit from Eloy Jimenez is the stuff other sports claim to try to avoid but would kill to justify. It very definitely beats fake crowd noise, and no children’s sensibilities were harmed as a result.

There’s been the entire Cardinals-Padres seriesette (3:53 in in a featureless Game 1, 4:19 in a very eventful Game 2) in which all the things that make the Padres the new sexy team and their once-reviled baby poop–brown and gold uniforms the new sporting fashion accessory happened, including a triumphant bat flip by noted choreographer-provocateur Fernando Tatis The Younger. The old, colorless game with the unwritten rules are being exposed as uncool by the players who allegedly are supposed to live by them, which is the first step toward player empowerment in baseball.

In short, the players managed in the first three days to explain to everyone that it isn’t the length of the game that’s the murderous part. Baseball’s ongoing malaise has been more attitudinal than statistical, and now that we’ve seen what can be done when time is used wisely and weirdly, maybe there’s hope that the game can tackle the real thing that dogs it, which is pace. The way out is games long enough to give us batflips and futility and F-bombs on the fly, and taking new rules and making a mockery of them despite the best efforts of those who installed them.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter and too many folks would rather not have baseball than have it, in which case you’re free to go and rekindle your love for Broncos-Jets. Just don’t go to any Republican fundraisers without the Andy Reid beekeeper helmet, three N-95 masks, and catcher’s gloves on each hand. It’s dangerous out there.