Turner’s homer was amazing — but not as amazing as Gibson’s

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Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was similar …
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… to Justin Turner’s homer in Game 2 of the NLCS, but it was mostly quite different.

Make no mistake: Justin Turner’s game-winning home run Sunday night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Chicago Cubs was an amazing moment if you are a Dodgers fan.

Even more amazing was how Turner’s blast was hit exactly 29 years to the day after Kirk Gibson hit his famous game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers against the Oakland Athletics. In fact, it was only 40 minutes from being the exact moment.

Turner even added to how similar the two moments were after the game when he revealed what he was doing on Oct. 15, 1988.

“One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma’s house and watching that game and watching Gibby hit that homer,” said Turner, who was about a month shy of his fourth birthday then. “Yeah, I can’t even put it into words right now. It’s incredible. The most important thing was, obviously, helping us get another win. But that’s something down the road, hopefully many, many years from now I’ll get to tell stories about.”

But as astounding as Turner’s home run was for the Dodgers on Sunday night, it was not as amazing as Gibson’s. Hey, mister. I was in the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium for Gibson’s homer. I saw Gibson’s homer. And this, mister, was not as good as Gibson’s homer.

(That was my best Lloyd Bentsen impersonation, by the way. And you, you apparently were doing your best Dan Quayle impersonation.)

Let me point out at least some of the ways that Gibson’s homer was a much better moment than Turner’s homer.

  • First of all, Gibson’s homer was in the World Series and Turner’s was in the NLCS. If the Dodgers manage to lose their 2-0 lead to the Cubs, Turner’s homer will scarcely even be remembered.
  • Second, and this may be the biggest difference: The Dodgers were an enormous underdog to the Athletics in 1988. In fact, no one even expected the Dodgers to make it out of the NLCS. It was almost as much of a miracle that they beat the New York Mets to get to the World Series. The 2017 Dodgers had the best record in baseball and even though they had trouble in August and September, it’s not a big surprise that they are in the position they’re in.
  • Next, Gibson’s home run, even though it was only in Game 1, has long been regarded as the thing that defeated the A’s. Oakland did manage to win Game 3, 2-1, on a walkoff homer of their own by Mark McGwire, but virtually nothing else is remembered. Not Orel Hershiser’s two complete-game victories, giving up two earned runs in 18 innings. Not Mickey Hatcher’s two homers and his .368 batting average. Virtually nothing.
  • Turner’s home run came with the score tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. If Turner doesn’t win the game there, it merely goes into extra innings. Gibson’s homer came with the Dodgers losing 4-3 1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. If he makes an out, the game is over and the A’s win the opener on the Dodgers’ home turf.
  • Gibson’s at-bat in 1988 was his only appearance of the World Series. His knees were so torn up, it was amazing he was even able to hobble up the dugout steps and onto the field for Game 1 of the Series. Turner is batting .429 (a team-leading nine hits in 21 at-bats) in the playoffs two home runs and 10 RBIs. Gibson wouldn’t play again in ’88; Turner figures to be a big part of whatever the Dodgers do this postseason.
  • The drama on Gibson’s home run was ratcheted up as far as it could go: a 3-2 count with Mike Davis on second base and two outs. Davis stole second during Gibson’s at-bat to get into scoring position. Turner’s came on a 1-0 count with two outs and runners on first and second. Yasiel Puig had led off with a walk and Chris Taylor later got on base with a walk two batters later. If Turner even just hits a single, Puig has a good chance to score and win the game for the Dodgers. If Gibson singles, Davis has a good chance to score and tie the game for the Dodgers. However, if Gibson had hit a ball to right field, he might’ve been thrown out at first because of his bad knees.
  • Turner’s homer was caught, rather spectacularly, in fact. Keith Hupp, a 54-year-old retired South Gate policeman, is suddenly a celebrity after nabbing Turner’s shot. However, if anyone was going to catch JT’s ball, Hupp might have had the best statistical chance. Hupp, according to an ESPN.com story, has caught 10 home runs this season alone and 18 over the past two. He caught Cody Bellinger’s 35th and 36th home runs, which gave him the Dodgers’ all-time rookie record. Sunday’s homer wasn’t even the first Turner NLCS shot against the Cubs Hupp had nabbed; he got one last year too. He said he studies the ESPN Home Run Tracker before every game he attends. The fate of Gibson’s home run, meanwhile, remains unknown after 29 years.

So Turner’s home run, while plenty dramatic, was the most dramatic. It may be the straw that breaks the Cubs’ back, like Gibson’s broke the Athletics’ — or it may just be one part of a long story that could still end in victory or in defeat for the Dodgers.

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Which Dodgers team will we see in the postseason?

What a strange, crazy, atypical season it has been for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

postseasonFor the most part in 2017, the Dodgers were eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly fantastic. That was the strange, crazy, atypical part.

From April through the first half of August, they could quite almost literally do no wrong. No opponent was too tough. No deficit was too steep. Any ace a team would throw against the Dodgers was vanquished. Any hill the Dodgers had to climb was conquered.

As a fan, it was extremely difficult to know how to handle this strange turn of events. The Dodgers never do things this easily. Sure, the team has won five National League West Division championships in a row, but they are seldom one of those teams: a team that is overwhelmingly overpowering.

By Aug. 25, they had a record of 91-36 (.717) and were leading the NL West by a staggering 21 games. Then the bottom dropped out and they lost 16 of their next 17 games (.059, as long as we’re posting winning percentages). They managed to go 11-6 the rest of the way and finish at 104-58 (.642) and win more games than any Dodgers team since they moved to L.A. 60 seasons ago. Only the 1953 Brooklyn team (105-49) have won more; the 1942 team went 104-50. The 1974 team (102-60) is the last one to win as many as 100 games.

Of course, none of those regular-season figures means much in the postseason. The ’53 and ’74 teams lost in the World Series and the ’42 team didn’t even win the NL pennant, finishing two games behind St. Louis.

The Dodgers will face either Arizona or Colorado in the NL Division Series that starts Friday night. The question in 2017 is, which Dodgers team will we see: the do-no-wrong team of the season’s first 4½ months, or the do-all-wrong team of the last 1½ months?

Los Angeles has barely sniffed the World Series since the 1988 championship season. Whatever fans the team has that were born that year will soon be in their thirtysomethings.

The Dodgers’ record still wound up being the best in baseball and guarantees them home-field advantage throughout the postseason. In fact, the Dodgers are the first team to earn home-field advantage in the World Series, if they get that far. Baseball, thank goodness, scrapped the idea of having the league that won the All-Star Game get home field in the World Series this season; prior to that, the leagues simply alternated home-field advantage each year.

Home is exactly where the Dodgers’ hearts are. They have the best home record in the majors at 57-24 (.704). But they were only 5-8 at Dodger Stadium in September. Seven of those losses were to Arizona (3) and four to Colorado (4).

Clayton Kershaw, the ace of the Dodgers, had an 18-4 record and won his fifth NL ERA title at 2.31. But he’s 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in the postseason.

Shortstop Corey Seager finished the year with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. But he hit only .179 in September. Hopefully for the Dodgers, October will be better for him: He went 3 for 3 in the season finale Sunday at Colorado.

Dodgers fans should not, under any circumstances, expect the NL Division Series to be easy. Both of the team’s possible opponents — the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies — won the season series against the Dodgers. The D-Backs went 11-8 (4-6 in the first half of the season, but 7-2 in the second) while the Rockies were 10-9 (5-7 in the first half, 5-2 in the second).

The Dodgers spent most of 2017 being amazing, but I say their chances of even advancing past the Division Series are 50-50 at best. Getting to the World Series, at long last? Not happening.

THE SEASON JUST PAST

Now, while I settle in for another inevitable postseason of Dodgers disappointment (what a Gloomy Gus I am), here are a few notes from the just concluded regular season:

  • Despite continuing efforts to pick up the pace of baseball games, MLB’s average time of game in 2017 was up 4½ minutes to a bloated 3 hours, 5 minutes, 11 seconds. This after the majors had managed to get game time to drop from 3:02 in 2014 to 2:56 in 2015.
  • MLB tried to get the players union to go along with three time-shortening measures — restricting catchers to one trip to the mound per pitcher each inning, employing a 20-second pitch clock and raising the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level, at the top of the kneecap — but it declined. The commissioner has the right to implement them unilaterally next season.
  • Led by the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton’s 59 and Yankees rookie Aaron Judge’s 52, there were a record 6,105 home runs in the majors in 2017, topping the record of 5,963 set in 2000 during the steroids era.
  • Feast or famine: There was also a record set in strikeouts with 40,104, up from the 38,982 set just last year.
  • Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros led the major leagues in batting at .346. He won the American League batting title for the second straight season and third time in four years. Not bad for a guy who’s maybe only 5-foot-6. Maybe.
  • Major league attendance finished below 73 million fans for the season, the fourth drop in the last five seasons.
  • Of all the divisions winners, the defending champion Chicago Cubs have the fewest wins at 92. Still, many expect them to have a rematch with the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
  • For pitchers, this was only the fourth season in major league history with no 20-game winners. Four pitchers, including the Dodgers’ Kershaw, topped the list at 18.
  • There was also a fourth straight record low in complete games with 59. There were 83 last season, 104 in 2015 and 302 in 1998.

Worried about the Dodgers? You should be

This has gone beyond all explanation.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that for 4½ months could scarcely do anything wrong, now can scarcely do anything right.

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Relief pitcher Pedro Baez has been the recent subject of boos at Dodger Stadium. (TonyTheTiger photo)

Fans knew this was going to be a record-breaking season, but few of them would’ve guessed it would be exactly this way:

The Dodgers are the first team in major league history to win 15 out of 16 games and lose 15 out of 16 games in the same season. They have lost 10 in a row after twice winning 10 or more in a row.

The Dodgers will sleepwalk their way to San Francisco on Monday night for the first game of a three-game series. The Giants are in last place in the National League West, 37 games behind the first-place Dodgers and have long been eliminated from the race.

That means nothing now. The Dodgers can seemingly beat no one and wouldn’t the rival Giants just love to keep L.A.’s misery going?

It’s as if the Dodgers used up their entire season’s quota of runs, hits, home runs and good pitching by the middle of August. It’s like they were a bunch of playboy spendthrifts rolling into Vegas for a week and by Thursday morning they were broke and wearing barrels.

The gunslingers have ridden into town, shooting the place up, but suddenly are all out of bullets just as the marshal shows up.

At first, the Dodgers just tried to explain away the whole thing. Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger were injured, they said. We’re just resting a few guys, they said. Everyone still has the same preparation, the same attitude, they said.

Manager Dave Roberts has tried to keep a steady countenance during this free fall, but finally, after the Dodgers’ 8-1 loss to Colorado, which resulted in a second straight series sweep, third baseman Justin Turner vented his frustration.

“Just sitting back and saying we’re still the best team in baseball isn’t the answer,” Turner said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Because regardless of what the record says, right now we’re the worst team in baseball. What we did three months ago doesn’t mean a whole lot right now. No one in this league is going to feel sorry for us. No one in this league is going to show up and be like, ‘Oh, poor Dodgers.’ There are a bunch of sharks in the water. We’re bleeding a little bit right now. I think teams are smelling the blood.”

Wow. When an actual Dodger repeats what I said two weeks ago, you know it’s bad.

It isn’t just that the Dodgers, who have the best run differential in the NL, aren’t scoring runs. It isn’t that the Dodgers fielders are playing sloppily. It isn’t just that the starting pitching has gone kaflooey. It isn’t just that the relievers are throwing jellyballs to the plate. It’s all of these things.

Some nights it’s one thing. Some nights it’s another. Some nights it’s everything. Friday night against the Rockies, the Dodgers scored four runs in the first inning, led 4-1 and news bulletins went out all over the Internet. Of course, they gave up four runs in the fifth and lost 5-4.

The rockin’, feel-good atmosphere at Dodger Stadium has turned into a chorus of boos. You know things are in the dumpster when fans boo at Dodger Stadium. They like to cheer, but they are seldom passionate enough to boo. You’re just plain awful when Dodgers fans boo.

Reliever Pedro Baez has been the most individual subject of boos. Before the All-Star break, Baez’s ERA was 1.43. Since then, it’s 4.66 and he’s given up five home runs and nine walks in 19 innings.

In three appearances in the recent homestand, Baez allowed four hits, including two homers, in the first outing without retiring a batter. He walked his first two batters and was charged with the loss in his next stint. He walked the first batter in his third appearance before striking out the side.

Trades the Dodgers made at the deadline haven’t panned out well either. Outfielder Curtis Granderson is batting .114 since he was acquired from the Mets. Starting pitcher Yu Darvish has a 5.34 ERA, allowing 13 runs in 12⅓ innings.

This has gone beyond the idea that the Dodgers are just going through the same kind of slump that every team goes through. No other team in baseball has lost 10 in a row or 15 of 16 this season. For the first time since July 21, the Dodgers’ lead in the NL West is down to single digits. For most teams, a nine-game lead would be wonderful. Not when you led by 21 games just 17 days ago. Twelve games lost in the standings in 2½ weeks. They were an incredible 91-36 then and on pace to win 116 games, tying the all-time record. They’re a much differently incredible 92-51 now and on pace to win 104, if they’re lucky.

Seriously, I’m telling you, this has Bobby Thomson and 1951 written all over it.

Only days ago, Roberts and the Dodgers were thinking about things like playoff pitching rotations and home-field advantage. Maybe now they should be making contingency plans for the wild-card game.

First, however, are the Giants. The last-place Giants. To whom the Dodgers have already lost six of 13 games this season.

Yikes.

Postseason can’t come too soon for struggling Dodgers

Call it nitpicking, call it being hypercritical, call it raining on the parade, call it whatever you want, but here’s the truth:

‪Right now, at this moment, the Dodgers are not the best team in baseball. Not even close.

I fully realize this may not even be a blip on the radar with a team that is leading the National League West standings by 19 games on Aug. 28, a team that is on track to win an astounding 114 games this season.

But the goal of any division-leading team is to get into the World Series and win it. That’s definitely the goal of these Dodgers, who haven’t been to the Fall Classic since 1988.

A 91-38 record is awfully nice (they need to finish no worse than 26-7 to surpass the all-time win record of 116; the 162-game National League record is 108). Also nice are all the home runs, excellent pitching and clutch defense. But there will be a lot of people, even on the team itself, who will look upon the 2017 season as something less than successful if the Dodgers do not get into the World Series.

A six-month, 162-game season is an awfully long time. It’s supposed to be. Baseball separates the good teams from the not-so-good teams better than any other professional sport. The dog days of summer don’t have that name for nothing. A team can look like world-beaters in the spring, but then wimp out in the summer heat of August.

This, I know, sounds ludicrous to some of you, considering I’m talking about a team that is 17-7 in August. But the Dodgers had a rough week and could be teetering a little in the summer heat.

This is a team that goes into its three-game series at Arizona on Tuesday averaging exactly five runs per game. That’s third best in the NL behind Washington (5.3) and Colorado (5.1).

But in their last five games, against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, they scored 15 runs and five of those came in one game. The Dodgers were shut out in two of the other four games, only the sixth and seventh shutouts they’ve sustained all season and their first since June 26.

The Dodgers lost their series to Milwaukee over the weekend, the first time they’ve had a series loss since June 5-7, and they lost back-to-back games for the first time since July 20-21. Their hits-per-game average has gone from 8.6 for the season to 7.8 in the last five games.

So maybe I am doing a little nitpicking, but these games were against two teams struggling just to get into the NL wild-card race.

It was especially shocking Wednesday to see how the Dodgers were unable to score a run at Pittsburgh in 10 innings. It was even more upsetting because starting pitcher Rich Hill was pitching a perfect game. In the ninth inning, an error by Logan Forsythe, playing third base, ended the perfect game. Hill got through the ninth inning and even continued into the 10th with the game still scoreless and his no-hitter intact. However, Josh Harrison hit Hill’s 99th pitch into the left-field stands to win the game for the Pirates. The Dodgers had hits, eight of them, but left 11 runners on base.

The Dodgers were blanked again Saturday, 3-0 by the Brewers. Los Angeles scattered five hits and left five on base.

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The Dodgers are a much lesser team without Cody Bellinger.

Maybe what this does is really prove how valuable Cody Bellinger is to the Dodgers.

If you want proof as to how good an NL MVP candidate Bellinger is (as well as Rookie of the Year), the Dodgers were 10-12 before Bellinger first was called up April 25. Since being injured Aug.19, they are 4-4. The word is Bellinger will be back Wednesday and not a moment too soon.

Adrian Gonzalez has returned from the disabled list and has hit a homer, but is batting .184 since coming back.

Justin Turner still leads the Dodgers with a .329 average and is third in the NL, but is hitting just .205 in his last 11 games with only one extra-base hit.

Clayton Kershaw has definitely been missed. He and fellow starting pitcher Alex Wood have both been on the DL. Even though Kershaw has been out since July 23, he is still tied for the major league lead in victories with 15.

The Dodgers have managed a 23-7 record in Kershaw’s absence. But four of those losses have come since Aug. 20 and the Dodgers had to have a “bullpen game” Saturday with Ross Stripling, normally a reliever, starting and lasting only three innings. He was followed by five others.

Yu Darvish, who was acquired from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline, won his first two starts for the Dodgers, but gave up three runs in five innings Sunday against Milwaukee. Darvish has his moments, but doesn’t have as many of them as fans would like.

These days, once the regular season is over and the postseason starts, baseball is a much different game. The name of the game during the postseason is pitching — having at least two dynamite starters and a solid progression of relievers to seal the deal. The Dodgers need to get Kershaw and Wood healthy and the offense needs to provide support to them so that great performances like Hill’s are not wasted.

It’s been a remarkable, fantastic season so far for the Dodgers. The playoffs cannot come soon enough for them. Their fans hope they are the same amazing team then that they have been all year.

Dodgers to show six more games on KTLA

LD2017_PrimaryClubMark_RGBSix Dodgers games will be shown on KTLA (Channel 5), as well as on SportsNet LA, the team and Spectrum announced Thursday.

The games shown will be the final six Tuesday games of the season, starting Aug. 22. Four of the six games are road games.

Channel 5 also showed 10 early-season games; the 16 total games will be the most the Dodgers have shown on free television since SportsNet LA was launched in 2014. SportsNet LA is owned by the Dodgers.

The channel is available only on Spectrum, despite efforts to convince other providers to offer it. About 60% of the Los Angeles market does not receive it.

The six games that will be shown on KTLA are:

  • Aug. 22 at Pittsburgh, 4 p.m.
  • Aug. 29 at Arizona, 6:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 5 vs. Arizona, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 12 at San Francisco, 7:15 p.m.
  • Sept. 19 at Philadelphia, 4 p.m.
  • Sept. 26 vs. San Diego, 7 p.m.

How sportswriting ruined sports for me

Having been a Dodgers fan all my life, you’d think this moment — when the team is the best in baseball and can seemingly do no wrong — would be one of the best of my life.

You’d be wrong.

Despite the fact that I trace my Dodgers roots clear back to the womb — when my mother no doubt jumped up and down when Brooklyn won its only world championship as she was pregnant with me — I can’t completely abandon myself to the sheer joy of this 2017 baseball season.

Why? Because I’ve been a sportswriter. That’s why.

There are many sports fans who think that the ideal job for them would be to become a sports reporter or broadcaster. What better way could there be to be around the team you love?

Actually, nearly any.

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Covering Opening Day at Dodger Stadium in 2015. Do I look like I’m having fun?

Objectivity is instilled so deeply into a journalist — yes, even a sports journalist — that the urge to push for any team to win is something that is constantly being crushed to a pulp inside him. The rule is “No Cheering in the Press Box.”

It became such a second-nature thing with me that even when one of my sons played sports in high school, I felt very reluctant to cheer for him lest someone in the stands catch me and wonder about my impartiality. And this at a time when I was only occasionally covering high school sports.

Being a sports reporter, like other kinds of reporting, tends to make you cynical. It happens mostly because you start seeing the unsightly underbelly of sports. On any level, from the big leagues to Little League, purity is a scarce commodity. People who appear nice on the field are bullies in the locker room. Hall of famers can be bums.

You stop taking things at face value. You question things. You become sarcastic.

Hey, and I’m a nice guy. Imagine what happens to guys who aren’t so nice.

So here’s where I am with the Dodgers. I had the opportunity to cover a few Dodgers games over the course of my 33-year career at a relatively small newspaper. If you took all the games I covered in that time, it wouldn’t even make up half a season’s home schedule.

Despite my upbringing as a Dodgers fan, my main thought every time was not to mess up. Since I covered so few games, virtually no one knew me, cared about me or talked to me. There was no one who went out of their way to show me how to get somewhere or to give me tips. Everyone knew more than I did.

No one had to worry about me cheering in the press box. I was just trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything or do something stupid.

When the Dodgers won the games I was covering, I was happy inside, but stone-faced outside. As I got older, I started dreaming about retirement, about the day I could watch a game, in person or on TV, and feel free to completely lose myself in the emotion. I started wishing I could care only about the sports and the teams that I wanted to care about and ignore everything else.

Three months ago this week, I didn’t retire but was laid off. I’m fairly free at this moment to watch any Dodgers game I want to and to get as geeked out about them as my wife can tolerate.

But total abandon hasn’t come. For some reason, I’m still holding back. Even though it seems the Dodgers couldn’t lose if they tried, I can’t completely give myself over to them. It’s not their fault, it’s mine.

I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because this isn’t retirement; I didn’t leave on my own terms. Maybe it’s because the next job I get might also be in sports and I don’t want to forget how to be objective. Maybe I remain cynical because, after listening to the incomparable Vin Scully for so many years, I can’t stand how Orel Hershiser refuses on TV to find any fault in any Dodger.

It may also be because the Dodgers haven’t been to the World Series since they won it in 1988. Sure, the team has been successful, winning, in fact, four consecutive division titles, but the door to the Fall Classic has been locked to them. That can’t help but make a guy cynical.

The Dodgers are on a pace to win 114 games this season. All I can think about is how the two teams holding the all-time record of 116 wins did not win the World Series. The 1906 Chicago Cubs lost the Series to the Chicago White Sox. The 2001 Seattle Mariners didn’t even make it to the World Series, losing in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees.

When you’re a cynical sportswriter, you embrace the worst-case scenario.

Baseball is doing more and more clock-watching

MLB Primary Marks - Digital ArtThe one thing that gnaws at Major League Baseball and its commissioner, Rob Manfred, more than anything else it seems, is pace of play. Baseball can’t do anything, apparently, in less than three hours.

It’s the bane of Manfred’s existence. Baseball, which throughout its history has been known as a sport without a clock, now has a clock in every stadium to mark the time between innings, to measure coaching visits to the pitcher’s mound and how much time a manager has to ask for a replay review.

But the thing that swallows up the most time during baseball games — and, obviously, every other televised sporting event — is advertising.

Commercial breaks between innings and during pitching changes can be brutal, especially on nationally televised games. Contracts allow for even longer breaks during nationally televised games than for those just shown regionally.

It’s not easy for baseball to do much to significantly cut down the pace of play when the thing that makes it the worst has nothing to do with play. It takes place when there is no play going on at all. It’s difficult to cut back on the thing that pays the bills.

But Manfred is giving it a shot. MLB experimented during Tuesday night’s game between the Colorado Rockies and the St. Louis Cardinals with shorter commercial breaks.

The game, shown nationally on MLB Network, as well as regionally on AT&T SportNet Rocky Mountain and Fox Sports Midwest, reduced its ad breaks from 2 minutes, 25 seconds to 1:45, according to SportsBusiness Daily.

Apparently to make up for the lost revenue in advertising time, the game also experimented in virtual advertising, i.e., digitally displaying corporate logos not only behind home plate, but also in the batter’s eye area, in foul territory near the first- and third-base line and along the top of the stadium.

The whole thing had to get cooperation not only from the teams and networks, but also from the MLB Players Association and the World Umpires Association unions.

It all went great, except for one thing: The game still took, 3 hours, 11 minutes to play, five minutes longer than this year’s MLB average, which is at an all-time high.

According to baseball-reference.com, time of game first averaged more than three hours in 2014. It managed to dip to 2:56 the next season, but went to 3:00 in 2016 and is at 3:05 this year.

The average time of game was 2:55 10 years ago and 2:56 20 years ago. In 1990, it was 2:51, in 1980 it was 2:38 and in 1970 it was 2:34.

THE LATE PAC-12

The Pacific-12 Conference is also looking for ways to make its football games shorter. At its media days this week, the conference said it plans a pilot program during some nonconference games this season to make games shorter.

The Los Angeles Times said the measures include cutting halftime from 20 to 15 minutes and cutting several minutes of TV commercials.

The Pac-12 hasn’t announced which games will be in the program yet because they need approval from visiting teams.

The conference suffers from having a lot of its games shown at night. The average time of a college football game was 3 hours, 24 minutes last season.

GREEN LIGHT FOR EARNHARDT

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s contract to join NBC next year was finally made official this week. Exactly how he’ll be used in the network’s NASCAR coverage remains to be seen. It also seems pretty likely that the iconic driver will occasionally be doing more than just auto racing.

Sam Flood, NBC Sports executive producer and president of production, told reporters this week there have been discussions about Earnhardt branching out.

“We’ve had conversations, and this is a deal with all of NBCUniversal, so it’s not just NASCAR,” Flood said. “So we’ve talked about football, we’ve talked about the Olympics, we’ve talked about other parts of the company.

“I could see him being involved, if it’s the right fit for him and for us. We’re not going to say. ‘You’re going to go off and do a feature on football,’ we’re going to say, ‘Hey, does this make sense for both sides to get you involved in something here, be it the Super Bowl, be it the Olympics. There’s a lot of speed events in the Olympics. Could be an interesting match for Dale.”

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

The British Open earned a 3.6 big-market overnight rating on NBC for the final round Sunday. Jordan Spieth’s victory was down 8% from last year’s final round, in which Henrik Stenson won over Phil Mickelson. … The BIG3 three-on-three basketball league has seen declining viewership on Fox Sports 1 since it debuted the first of its one-day delayed telecasts on June 26, but the shows are still substantially better than what the network was showing last year at this time, according to SBD. The first telecast in Brooklyn was seen by 400,000 viewers. The ones since then have been seen by 235,000, 129,000 and 148,000. …

Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN and Fantasy Football Now on ESPN2 will both be expanded to three hours when they debut for this season on Sept. 10. … The Big Ten Conference has extended its contracts with CBS, Fox and ESPN for six years each. … Lisa Byington will become the first woman to do play-by-play of a college football game on Big Ten Network when she calls Northwestern-Bowling Green on Sept. 16. … Ray Lewis, previously on ESPN, will join Showtime’s Inside the NFL this season starting Sept. 5. … Sporting News reports ESPN is trying to get Fox’s Charissa Thompson to join Mike Greenberg as a co-host for his new morning show debuting Jan. 1.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, truly a mismatch this season, will be on national TV this weekend from Dodger Stadium. Saturday’s game will be on FS1 as well as SportsNet LA at 1 p.m. PDT and Sunday’s game will be a Sunday Night Baseball game exclusively on ESPN at 5 p.m. … FS1 will also show Reds-Marlins on Saturday at 4 p.m. TBS will have Cubs-Brewers at 11 a.m. Sunday. … And this is for helicopter parents everywhere: ESPN says it will show a record 140 Little League baseball and softball games across six networks (including ESPNews, ESPNU and even the Longhorn Network) between this Sunday and Aug. 27.