Commentary

MLB is onto something -- suspended Series games

Updated: October 30, 2008, 11:22 AM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Frankly, the first suspended game in World Series history worked so well that baseball should consider more of them.

Seriously. Worried that fans can't watch the World Series because games last past midnight? Just play half a game each night. Everyone is happy. Broadcasts end by 10-10:30 p.m. on the East Coast. The networks get a minimum of eight nights of programming and as many as 14 for their considerable rights fees. And just think of all the extra hot dogs and beer teams can sell before each "game."

Sure, starting pitchers would never pitch a complete game again, but that's hardly been a concern anyway since Jack Morris retired. Besides, it's a small price to pay for the drama of picking up a tie game in the sixth inning.

"That's reality TV at its best right there," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "To heck with 'Lost' and 'American Idol' and all those other things -- just start a game in the bottom of the sixth. If you want to keep the fans interested, just go there."

And remember, his team lost the game Wednesday, 4-3, and thus the series. Imagine his enthusiasm for the concept if he had been in the winning dugout.

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"It wouldn't be a bad idea," Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer said. "But as a player, sitting around for a day isn't fun."

No problem. We can eliminate the day off in between due to rain. This concept is still in the formative stage. We can consider all possibilities.

Such as whether you should sing the national anthem before you pick up the second half of the game. Or whether you should have a seventh-inning stretch and play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Eager to have no further delays than the 46 hours (2,670 minutes) that had already passed, Major League Baseball opted to have neither Wednesday night.

So, it was a little strange. The teams arrived four to five hours before the game, as usual, and took their normal batting practice. Then they "started" the game the same as they always had, except the home team was at-bat, the visiting team was in the field, the relievers were already warming up in the bullpen and the scoreboard said it was the bottom of the sixth inning.

"It was like starting a basketball game in the fourth quarter," Tampa Bay rookie Fernando Perez said.

"It was odd, but you play so much, you just go with the flow," Moyer said. "You just say, 'It is what it is, let's deal with it.' Then we start off with a double, a bunt, we score a run and we're going, 'This is great. We've got a good chance to win this.'"

[+] EnlargeRain In Philly
Howard Smith/US PresswireFrom now on, the grounds crew can just pull the tarp onto the field to end one half-game, and then pull it off again the next night to start the other half.
All that happened in the first three batters of the evening; the Phillies suddenly had a 3-2 lead, and the Rays were just nine outs away from losing the World Series before they had even taken their "first" at-bats of the night.

As Yogi once said, "It gets late early."

"When you go into a game knowing that you may only get one at-bat to have an impact, either positively or negatively," third baseman Evan Longoria said, "it's a difficult thing."

It was very different from a normal game, and there was a lot of speculation about how it might start. Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel could have inserted left-handed pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, prompting Maddon to take out right-hander Grant Balfour (who had already pitched to three batters Monday) and brought in lefty J.P. Howell or David Price, prompting Manuel to counter by pinch-hitting right-hander Chris Coste. And all that would have been before the "first pitch."

"Shoot," said Cole Hamels, the Phillies' Game 5 starter, "I was telling myself I was still in the game. I was hoping Charlie might put me in to hit."

No such luck. Manual inserted Jenkins as his pinch-hitter and Maddon stayed with Balfour. Moments later, Jenkins doubled off the wall and the Phillies were on their way.

"It's a tougher way to think," Maddon said of managing a three-inning game. "I had everything thought through before the game and a lot of things presented themselves exactly as we thought they would. But they got hits where they weren't supposed to, that's all."

One question before the game was just how many fans would show up. Yes, it was the possible clinching game of the World Series, but how many fans had rearranged work and travel schedules to attend the game Monday but were unable to get to the stadium Wednesday? How many fans had misplaced their ticket stubs from Monday night? How many ticket stubs had become waterlogged in the rain and fallen apart?

As it turned out, the ballpark was packed solid and the fans were louder than any child screaming behind your seat on a cross-country flight.

Which brings up another thing that should appeal to baseball executives. Given the enthusiasm Phillies fans showed, they could double their World Series revenue by selling separate tickets to each half-game.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com