A (Very) Early Start, a Walk-Off Win and Pizza on the Town

Anthony Rizzo didn’t skip a beat when asked if he could spare a few minutes to talk by his locker Sunday morning.

“I have a game in a half-hour,” Rizzo, the Yankees first baseman, said, as if to deny the interview request. But Rizzo cracked a smile, revealing a light mood with his team having an unusual 11:35 a.m. start at home against the Detroit Tigers because of Major League Baseball’s streaming deal with Peacock.

While Rizzo was exaggerating — the exchange took place at 9:55 a.m. — some Yankees took a little while to adjust to the early start of what ended up being a 5-4 Yankees win in extra innings.

Rizzo guessed he was 10 years old the last time he played a game so early, while outfielder Joey Gallo estimated he had not since high school. Shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, catcher Jose Trevino and the right-hander Michael King could not recall playing so early since at least their time in the minor leagues.

“That was a little nuts,” King said, remembering games in the Florida State League that were billed as Kids Day promotions, “because you’ve got like a bunch of fifth graders screaming at you at 10:30 in the morning.”

Sunday’s crowd, which totaled 38,030 people, also featured plenty of children, with many sporting Little League uniforms. While empty seats were easy to find, the crowd’s volume rose to solid levels during the game’s more important moments, like when the struggling Gallo hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning — which began around 1 p.m. — and when Rizzo tied the game in the bottom of the eighth by scoring from third on an infield dribbler.

There were plenty of empty seats at Yankee Stadium when Jordan Montgomery took the mound in the first inning.Credit…Dennis Schneidler/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Yankees mostly took the atypical scheduling in stride. “It’s weird,” Rizzo said. “It’s obviously not all the time, so you just do it.” Added Trevino: “I don’t care. I’m playing baseball.”

Manager Aaron Boone said after the victory: “I felt like the energy was really good this morning. I didn’t hear any complaining or anything like that. Any reservations they had, they masked it well.”

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Several Yankees said they did not have to change much in the way of their pregame habits, beyond setting an earlier alarm. But the left-hander Jordan Montgomery, Sunday’s starter, said he had to do “a little extra to make sure I was loose” before tossing six and two-thirds innings of two-run ball.

Kiner-Falefa, on the other hand, gave a resounding “yes” when asked if the 11:35 a.m. start impacted his pregame routine. “Pretty much everything,” he said, adding that his commute to the ballpark, normally 15 minutes, took an hour. “Traffic was brutal,” Kiner-Falefa continued, though he was not one of the many who were likely impeded by the lower level of the George Washington Bridge being closed for a charity event, which the Yankees warned fans about with a tweet Saturday.

Even if some players did not love the early start, it came with a silver lining.

“At the present moment, not great,” reliever Lucas Luetge said when asked for his opinion. “After the game, it’ll be awesome. We’ll have the whole day to ourselves going into an off day.”

Josh Donaldson’s sacrifice fly in the 10th inning sent the Yankees, and their fans, home happy.Credit…Dennis Schneidler/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

That fact was not lost on the Yankees, who finished playing at 3:04 p.m., after Josh Donaldson hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Luetge had plans to spend time with family, while Rizzo anticipated a night of relaxation. Trevino was thinking about pizza hopping around the city — Joe’s Pizza and a few Bronx joints were on his to-do list — and King had 5:30 p.m. dinner reservations with his girlfriend in SoHo.

“I don’t think I’d ever get to a 5:30 reservation on a normal 1 p.m. game,” King said.

The “chance to exhale a little bit,” as Boone put it, was a welcome one for the Yankees. The team decided it would wait until its Monday off day to fly to Minnesota, the site of the team’s next series.

The game also gave fans the chance for a unique experience.

“This game time is allowing my entire family to join me and make a big Sunday brunch event of it all,” said a season-ticket holder, Adony A. Batista, before echoing sentiments shared by Yankees players. “The game will be over, and I still have a full afternoon left!”

Watching on TV, though, was more complicated, as the game was available only on Peacock, NBC Universal’s paid streaming service. Before the season, Major League Baseball and NBC agreed to a new, 18-game Sunday morning package.

Sunday’s game was called by Jason Benetti, the White Sox play-by-play announcer on NBC Sports Chicago. Jack Morris, who handles Tigers games on Bally Sports Detroit, and John Flaherty, from the YES Network, accompanied Benetti in the booth.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa typically has a 15-minute commute, but the early start got him stuck in traffic. It took him an hour to get to Yankee Stadium, where he went 2 for 3 in the win.Credit…Dennis Schneidler/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Convenience was an issue for some, as not every household pays for Peacock, and the broadcast lagged behind Twitter updates and online game feeds. Some resorted to watching the game on illegal streams, rather than on Peacock, but many were receptive to the broadcast itself, citing the unique nature of having an analyst from each team.

While the Yankees are not scheduled for another Peacock stream, their 2022 docket features more than a few games that are not on their regional YES Network. A deal with Amazon Prime accounts for 21 games, and the team has made two appearances on Apple TV+ because of another M.L.B. deal. With other national broadcast partners like ESPN and Fox taking up a handful of games, only 128 Yankees games were slated for YES this season, per the team’s online schedule.

It is part of M.L.B.’s long-term strategy to gain viewers by experimenting with alternative outlets.

“Both the Apple deal and the Peacock deal are really important to us, on the issue of reach,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a meeting with sports editors at M.L.B.’s headquarters in Manhattan last month. “I think that they are steppingstones to hopefully more involvement by those two companies in our local broadcasting situation. We do feel that streaming is the most viable alternative we have to improve our reach.”

Only the Peacock games, however, come with early start times. The idea is reminiscent of the N.F.L.’s games in London, which give American football die-hards a chance to wake up to their favorite sport at 9 a.m. Under Peacock’s format, baseball fans now have a similar opportunity on Sunday mornings.

Baseball players will just need to adapt on occasion.

“They get to wake up and there’s baseball on right away,” Luetge said. “I think it’s good. It’s a wrinkle, but it’s just one game.”

Benjamin Hoffman contributed reporting.

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