The Houston Astros won game 4 of the World Series last night with a no-hitter, which hasn't happened since 1956:
Pitching like a Game 1 starter, the young right-hander Cristian Javier put on a clinic on a night Houston was in need of something spectacular, throwing six no-hit innings at Philadelphia and combining with three relievers for the first combined no-hitter in World Series history.
Javier’s outing positioned the Astros for a 5-0, World Series-tying win in a Game 4 classic. Bryan Abreu struck out the side in the seventh inning, Rafael Montero worked a 1-2-3 eighth and Ryan Pressly lifted the Astros into the history books with a hitless ninth inning, delivering the third no-hitter of any type in postseason history and only the second to come in the World Series.
Only Don Larsen of the Yankees has ever thrown a solo no-hitter in the World Series. That was a perfect game in Game 5 in 1956, when catcher Yogi Berra famously leaped into Larsen’s arms to celebrate. On Wednesday, Houston’s catcher, Vázquez, had his choice of pitchers with whom to celebrate.
And yet, the TV audience declined again:
The Philadelphia Phillies’ 7-0 win over Houston in Game 3 of the World Series was seen by 11,162,000 viewers on Fox, down 2.7% from last year’s third game.
Atlanta’s 2-0 victory over the Astros last season was seen by 11,469,000. That game was on a Friday night, while this year’s Game 3 was on a Tuesday.
This year’s audience was up 34% from the 8,339,000 for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-2 win over Tampa Bay in 2020, the lowest-rated World Series.
World Series viewership has declined steadily since its peak in the 1970s. But why?
Derek Thompson points to the influence of Sabermetrics ("Moneyball") strategies, which have "led to a series of offensive and defensive adjustments that were, let’s say, catastrophically successful:"
The religion scholar James P. Carse wrote that there are two kinds of games in life: finite and infinite. A finite game is played to win; there are clear victors and losers. An infinite game is played to keep playing; the goal is to maximize winning across all participants. Debate is a finite game. Marriage is an infinite game. The midterm elections are finite games. American democracy is an infinite game. A great deal of unnecessary suffering in the world comes from not knowing the difference. A bad fight can destroy a marriage. A challenged election can destabilize a democracy. In baseball, winning the World Series is a finite game, while growing the popularity of Major League Baseball is an infinite game. What happened, I think, is that baseball’s finite game was solved so completely in such a way that the infinite game was lost.
Cultural Moneyballism, in this light, sacrifices exuberance for the sake of formulaic symmetry. It sacrifices diversity for the sake of familiarity. It solves finite games at the expense of infinite games. Its genius dulls the rough edges of entertainment. I think that’s worth caring about. It is definitely worth asking the question: In a world that will only become more influenced by mathematical intelligence, can we ruin culture through our attempts to perfect it?
Case in point: Don Larsen threw his perfect game all on his own in 1956. Christian Javier had three relievers last night. So is it really the same accomplishment?