Francisco Liriano fans 10 in Pirates’ Opening Day win over the Cardinals

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At long last, meaningful baseball is finally here. We’re treated to a trio of games to kick off the 2016 regular season, starting with Cardinals-Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

Pirates starter Francisco Liriano was in top form, both with the bat and with his arm. He helped his own cause, kicking off the scoring in the bottom of the second inning with a ground ball single to right field off of Adam Wainwright. On the mound, he was nearly unhittable, albeit a bit wild. The lefty walked five, but yielded only three hits while striking out 10 over six innings. According to August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs, Liriano is the first pitcher, dating back to 1913, to have such a line score. Last year, two pitchers struck out double-digit batters in their teams’ first game: Johnny Cueto and Felix Hernandez.

Along with Liriano’s single, Pirates first baseman John Jaso added an RBI single in the second inning. They made it 3-0 in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly to center field by Josh Harrison, which ended up being an interesting play. Gregory Polanco, who was on first base, tried to advance to second base, but was tagged out on a play that was reviewed and upheld on replay review. The Pirates tacked on a fourth run in the eighth on an RBI double by Jordy Mercer.

Wainwright, making his first start since April 25 last year, went six innings, allowing the three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts. The right-hander suffered a ruptured Achilles last season and returned at the end of September, making three relief appearances.

Cardinals reliever Seung-hwan Oh, making his first appearance in the majors, worked around two walks with two strikeouts in a scoreless seventh inning. The club inked him to a one-year deal for roughly $5 million in January.

For the Buccos, Tony Watson and Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth, respectively, in relief of Liriano. Closer Mark Melancon allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base to start the ninth inning in a non-save situation, but only one came around to score before the right-hander ended the game in a 4-1 victory for the Pirates.

The Blue Jays and Rays are just under way. The Mets will take on the Royals in a World Series rematch in a few hours. Baseball!

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.