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Early finish reason to pop the cork

PHILADELPHIA -- There was something very different about being in the Phillies' clubhouse ducking all the flying champagne Wednesday night. (Memo to self: Standing in a media scrum right next to Brad Lidge is a sure way to get soaked).

Reporters keep looking at their watches during these affairs and you're usually fretting about how it's well past midnight. Chances are the player you want is either getting drilled by the spray or still on the field taking pictures with his wife and Uncle Fred.

But we all quickly figured out the deal this time: It wasn't even 10:30! Game 5 1/2 of the World Series was over in 78 minutes. Obviously, that's not your normal baseball game but maybe Bud Selig and his merry band stumbled on to something novel out of the chaos of Monday night's fiasco in the muck.

How many kids out there -- heck, how many teenagers and 20-somethings? -- saw the final out of a World Series for the first time in their lives? It was just 9:58 p.m. when Lidge went to his knees in front of the mound and carved his place into Philly sports lore with the late Tug McGraw. We have to figure out a way to make this happen more.

There was certainly a curiosity factor with the whole notion of a suspended game deciding the World Series. And it played out in incredibly dramatic fashion, with Tampa Bay leaving the tying run on second base.

The teams rewarded baseball with terrific theater Wednesday after Selig made the right call by stepping in Monday and declaring the Phillies would not have been awarded a championship from a rain-shortened game. Selig got roasted for that All-Star Game tie in 2002 and he never would have lived down a World Series ending so poorly.

Wednesday's finish caused Thursday water cooler chatter the game doesn't normally get. Usually, folks need to pick up their morning newspaper to find out what happened while they were asleep.

The problem as we all know is that baseball sold out to Fox. And the network is paying $250 million a year for rights, so it would need a rebate or corporate sponsor for ad revenue lost because games aren't played in prime time.

Baseball should do it. Now.

Selig wants to play one Series game in the afternoon and the candidate is the Saturday affair, which is the lowest-rated in prime time anyway. The negative has always been going head-to-head with college football in the afternoon, but so many games are played Saturday night now that it should be a moot point.

And for the first time I can recall, the network seems willing to listen. Fox President Ed Goren said a rebate would get him talking.

"We would certainly have that discussion, and if it was laid out properly, that would certainly be a possibility," Goren said Wednesday on XM Radio. "In fact, think about this: We play a day game, then we have our normal prime-time programming. We get a double dip."

The starting times are one thing Selig can influence and he should get on it right away. The biggest problem he can't do anything about is the lack of drama in recent World Series. That's five years and counting we haven't even gotten to Game Six -- the longest such streak since the Series began in 1903.

You don't get those moments for all time in Games One through Five. Think about it. Go through this small sample of names: Gionfriddo, Mazeroski, Lolich, Clemente, Fisk, Reggie, Buckner, Knight, Morris, Carter, Gonzalez.

What's the connection? Every one of them carved their place in history in a Game Six or a Game Seven.

Next year, I'd love to see one day game, some night games that start at 7:30 and maybe a Game Seven. Imagine how many more folks could be talking about a final out they actually saw.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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