I roam through my mornings, bleary. I have a second cup of coffee and then a third, and then a stomachache. Did you see …? I ask my best friend, the woman at the coffee shop. “The milk is behind you,” she says.
It is October, which is to say it is playoff baseball season. This is a cause for joy, if you enjoy the national pastime, which you should; this is a cause for debilitating fatigue, if you live on the East Coast, which increasingly I would not recommend. Because this is not just October and not just the opening day of the World Series: This is the era of the never-ending postseason game, and if it’s not 1 a.m. ET then it’s 2 a.m. ET, and the baseball is so good and the hour is so late and maybe a position player will pitch soon and no one has any backup catchers and oh Jesus Christ is that Clayton Kershaw and please, oh please, Los Angeles and Boston, I say this with love: Make your games snappy.
During this year’s postseason, games have gone four hours and 33 minutes (ALCS Game 4) and five hours and 15 minutes (NLCS Game 4, which went 13 innings), both durations that flirted with breaking records for the longest postseason games in MLB history. These near-record-breakers aren’t flukes so much as part of a pan-baseball trend toward exhaustion: The records themselves were set just one and four years ago, respectively. The longest nine-inning postseason game was Game 5 of last year’s NLDS between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals, which lasted four hours and 37 minutes, while the longest postseason game period was in 2014, when the San Francisco Giants triumphed over the Nationals six hours, 23 minutes, and 18 innings after the first pitch.
To what do we owe these longer games? Pitching changes are the most commonly fingered culprit; in the age of the bullpen game, we see appreciably more pitchers taking the mound; in their playoff run, the Milwaukee Brewers averaged six pitchers. The problems are compounded in the postseason, when breaks for ads are pumped in aplenty.
For those of us on the East Coast and beyond, these games—all four-to-seven of which will start their broadcasts just after 8 p.m. ET—mean late nights. Should they go the 2017 regular-season league average of three hours and five minutes (itself a five-minute increase over the previous season), that would get those of us on the Eastern Seaboard realizing it’s going to snow soon to bed just after 11:00. Reasonable!
This promptness, needless to say, is mostly not what has been happening so far this fall.
On the nights this month when I could carry on no longer, I’ve switched off the television and then spent my mornings scrolling wistfully through Twitter and Slack, taking stock of all the things I missed. Thirteen innings, wow! Did the man in the Reagan-Bush ’84 hat make it out of Minute Maid Park alive? How confident did umpire Joe West really look? I don’t know. I may never. The truth, like the joy of watching live and season-deciding baseball, washed away in the 2 a.m. tides as I snored.
Here is a brief collection of iconic 2018 baseball playoff moments that I have not seen. Andrew Benintendi’s Houston-slaying dive. Manny Machado not hustling. Craig Kimbrel inducing mania and fear with a late-inning meltdown. (OK, he does that often enough that I’ve seen some of it.)
The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets once took a regular-season matchup to 25 innings in 1974, with St. Louis finally emerging victorious at 3:13 a.m. ET, seven hours and four minutes after the game began. Game 4 of the 1993 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays went just nine innings but lasted four hours and 14 minutes before Toronto got the win. That game, in which The New York Times noted that “11 pitchers toiled, very few of them well,” set the record for longest in World Series history. Of the 19 games in the past three World Series, five surpassed it, including last year’s five-hour-and-17-minute Game 5 (14 pitchers, with mostly not-exactly-ideal performances). Texas Monthly published a “Guide to Surviving the Monday After Game Five of the 2017 World Series” for weary Astros fans, which included advice like “Adjust Your Expectations for Yourself.” The very good tweet below came about in the wake of the 14-inning, five-hour-and-nine-minute inaugural game of the 2015 World Series:
JOE BUCK: Welcome to the top of the 47th— Justin Klugh (@justin_klugh) October 28, 2015
[Sun keeps getting bigger]
[World engulfed by flames]
BUCK: oh god yes
To be clear, I love baseball. Baseball is my favorite sport. Baseball’s existence helps in part to pay my rent. I will miss baseball when it is gone. So while it pains me to say this, I must: We cannot have six-hour baseball games. We cannot! As for five-hour games: no. Also no. Absolutely not.