Thoughts from an 18-inning marathon

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It shouldn’t have been an 18-inning game. If Nationals manager Matt Williams had just stuck with Jordan Zimmermann in the ninth, his club most likely would have beaten the Giants 1-0 to even the NLDS at a game apiece.

But, then, the most likely outcome with Drew Storen entering with a man on first and two down in the ninth was also a 1-0 Nationals victory. Storen, while not necessarily terrific coming on with runners on base, had gone his last 23 appearances without allowing an earned run. He finished the season with a ridiculous 1.12 ERA. Yes, he had something of a meltdown in his previous postseason appearance two years earlier, but that’s not something that should have been factored in tonight. He’s been pitching about as well as any NL reliever.

So, no, I’m not going to slam Williams for the choice. I didn’t think Zimmermann needed to come out, but I didn’t see anything wrong with Storen coming in.

– Of course, the Giants went on to win 2-1 in 18 innings, thanks to a Brandon Belt homer and a host of fine pitching. Yusmeiro Petit joined the small list of pitchers to throw six scoreless innings of relief in a postseason game. Pedro Martinez did it, not giving up a hit in the process, to clinch Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS for the Red Sox. Petit struck out seven and allowed just one hit to earn the victory.

– When Petit came in, my initial thought was that the Giants just hurt their chances of winning Game 4; they hadn’t announced whether Petit or Ryan Vogelsong would pitch that game. Obviously, Game 4 or no, Bruce Bochy made the right call.

– Tim Hudson, who has started both 18-inning games in postseason history, was terrific in what was shaping up as a losing cause, giving up one run in 7 1/3 innings. Hudson is now just one Giants win away from going to an LCS for the first time in his illustrious career; his teams were 0-for-6 in LDS play (the A’s were 0-for-4, the Braves 0-for-2). That previous 18-inning affair was between the Braves and Astros in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS. Hudson allowed three runs in seven-plus innings, and the Braves lost hours later on a Chris Burke homer.

– In all, the two teams tonight hit .143 in 119 at-bats. They slugged .193. The Giants were 8-for-57 with 14 strikeouts. The Nationals were 9-for-62 with 20 strikeouts.

– Facing elimination, the Nationals will have a tough call on whether to play Ryan Zimmerman on Monday against left-hander Madison Bumgarner. It’d be nice to squeeze him in somehow, but doing so would weaken the defense. Also, Zimmerman is a mere 3-for-17 with a homer off Bumgarner in his career. The candidates to be bumped — Bryce Harper (3-for-9, 1 HR), Asdrubal Cabrera (2-for-3) or Adam LaRoche (6-for-21, 3 2B) — have all been more successful, though those numbers mean next to nothing (or maybe just nothing).

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.