Wanted: More viewers for compelling Series
Drama, suspense, action, characters -- this World Series is a viewer's paradise. So why isn't America watching?
HOUSTON -- What's the excuse this time?
Had to watch Tuesday's episode of "Gilmore Girls" on the WB ("Lorelai and Rory are saddened by their ongoing estrangement")? Couldn't pass up Nova on PBS ("The discovery of the 400-million-year-old living fossil")? Needed to catch Santa's Slay on Spike TV ("A demonic Santa Claus goes on a rampage")?Or maybe you just didn't want to enjoy the longest game in World Series history, now known as, "Breakfast at Minute Maid."Game 3 extended well past midnight, but every minute and inning were worth watching.
According to the early figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research, this 2005 World Series is inhaling from the baseball ratings gas pipe. Nobody, relatively speaking, is watching the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. Depending on the viewership numbers from the Tuesday/Wednesday marathon, it could become the least-watched Series in history.
So, on behalf of us who were at U.S. Cellular Field for Games 1 and 2, and at Minute Maid for the 14-inning, five-hour, 41-minute-Game 3 victory by the White Sox, a simple question:
Do you have Fancy Feast for brains?
Short of asking Pamela Anderson to work the plate attired in pumps and her Baywatch one-piece, I can't think of much else this World Series is missing. Except viewers. And an Astros win.
But there's only so many times I can watch Jimmy Stewart reach into his pocket for Zuzu's rose petals before I'm looking for a change of pace. The White Sox and Astros are the perfect change.
What else do these guys have to do to earn your remote control trust? The 7-5 White Sox win had enough drama to keep David Mamet happy. You couldn't swing Bud Selig's recording studio-sized headphones without hitting a Game 3 storyline.
Roy Oswalt, perfect in the postseason, was supposed to perform reconstructive surgery on Houston's Series chances. Instead, he blew a 4-0 lead and was gone after the sixth inning.
There were a combined 30 runners left on base, which is a World Series record. There were a combined 17 pitchers used, which is a World Series record. And when Geoff Blum hit the game-winning homer in the top of the 14th, Astros manager Phil Garner might have set a World Series record for Longest Chair Toss.
"This is embarrassing to play like this in front of our hometown," groused Garner.
Embarrassing, but compelling TV. If you missed it, you only have yourself to blame.
There was other intrigue/comedy. Only here can a retractable roof become a World Series focal point. The Astros wanted the roof on the quirky, but wonderful Minute Maid Park closed, said it added to their home-field advantage. Selig and the MLB fellas wanted it open, said the weather was too nice to put a Tupperware lid over Game 3.
Guess what, the roof stayed open Tuesday evening and into the wee hours, which is the way it ought to be. Better yet, it adds to the TV viewing fun. Only at the 101st World Series can a team be annoyed because its roof is peeled back on a perfect autumn night. Meanwhile, the stadium that really needs an umbrella in October -- U.S. Cellular -- is still drying out from Sunday night's soak-a-thon.
Anyway, the Astros had all the home-field advantage they needed in Game 3. Problem is, Oswalt and a conga line of Astros hitters couldn't deliver when Houston needed it most.
This was must-see stuff. The Tuesday/Wednesday game was played 19 years to the day that Bill Buckner saw a Mookie Wilson grounder trickle through his legs. So it was fitting that Juan Uribe whipped a ball into Adam Everett's gut on a failed second-inning rundown, followed by Sox manager Ozzie Guillen angrily whipping his hat and gum away in the Sox dugout.
Reputations were restored (Astros closer Brad Lidge and Sox closer Bobby Jenks, in particular). Heroes identified (Blum hadn't seen a pitch in weeks). Leads were extended (the Sox own a 3-0 Series advantage -- only one team in postseason history has overcome that large of deficit). So what if it took awhile to sort out?
I know this Series doesn't have an East Coast marquee team. I know you need an ATF labrador to sniff out a bona-fide superstar (other than Hall of Famer-to-be Roger Clemens). I know the White Sox have already alienated the masses by making Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" their theme song. And yet, the 2005 Series deserves your support, even if this Series ends tonight.
How can you resist a Series where the Astros are on a championship O-fer, and the White Sox haven't won since the Bolshevik Revolution? You can't avoid getting warm and fuzzy about an Astros team that was so below .500 in late May that you needed deep-sea diving equipment to find them. How can you not want to see a White Sox team that finished with the second-best record in baseball?
Only at this Series can you find a Paul Konerko grand slam, an improbable walk-off dinger by Scott Podsednik, and a meathead Chicago fan roughing up Craig Biggio's wife -- all in the same Game 2. You also get an umpire screw-up on a hit-by-pitch, followed by an MLB executive's knucklehead refusal to let a media pool reporter ask the ump a single question.
We've had blown saves, the World Series debuts of worker bees Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, and the notebook-filling wisdom of Guillen.
We've had Podsednik's bat whisked away to Cooperstown, and Clemens's tender hammy whisked away to the trainer's room.
We've had stuff.
Now we have a White Sox team one victory away from its first Series title since 1917, which should mean something.
More viewers would be a nice start.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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