When the American League Division Series started, I definitely felt like we were getting the second string team from TBS for the Orioles and Detroit Tigers.
But after spending three games with them, I will take Brian Anderson, Joe Simpson, Dennis Eckersley, Jaime Maggio and the production team for this series anytime TBS wants them to call another O’s game.
With the O’s winning 2-1 on Sunday and advancing to the American League Championship Series, sure there’s a tendency to feel good about everything related to Sunday’s game. But this cable crew was baseball-smart and broadcast-sound in a way the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball bunch hasn’t been since Jon Miller departed the booth.
I praised the play-by-play call of Anderson and Eckersley’s analysis in my review of Game 1, but didn’t have much to say about the other analyst, Simpson.
And then watching Game 2, I was struck by Simpson being the only one in the booth who noticed that the game-winning double by Delmon Young was bobbled slightly by Tigers left fielder J.D. Martinez when he played it off the wall.
That split-second bobble allowed J.J. Hardy to score the winning run, coming all the way around from first.
As the replay showed him to be right, Simpson speculated that the bobble by Martinez might prove to be the play – or misplay – of the game. And he was right.
I vowed to track Simpson’s work more closely in Game 3, and came away impressed with how savvy he is about the game and how little showboating there is in his presentation – the opposite of, say, ESPN’s John Kruk.
On the two-run homer by Nelson Cruz, the eventual game-winner, Simpson explained to viewers “how far Cruz lets the ball get in on his hands” before he swings.
Sure enough, the replay showed the ball already across the plate before Cruz made contact. (Think of it as hitting the ball almost out of the catcher’s glove.)
And when I played the tape back, I noticed that before the inning started, Simpson had sensed possible trouble for David Price, the Tigers' otherwise outstanding pitcher.
“Pretty long inning on a cool day that Price was sitting in the dugout for,” Simpson said as Price finished his warmups and the Orioles came to bat.
There was more good work by Anderson. Unlike a lot of broadcasters, he is keenly in synch with what viewers are seeing and quick to explain the images when necessary.
At the start of Sunday’s game, for example, there were a lot of empty seats – a strange situation for a playoff game, especially after the first two games at Camden Yards. But Anderson quickly explained that the Lions were finishing up an NFL game next door, and many of the fans would be arriving after that game ended. By the end of the game, the stands were packed.
But what a dispirited crowd it was for most of the game. And the way TBS handled that impressed me as well.
In Baltimore, they had it easy with all the electricity at Camden Yards. When there is that much energy and color in the stadium, the secret to a strong telecast is to not over-talk it. Make sure your broadcast team doesn’t get in the way of the excitement, and make sure your camera and audio teams help viewers feel some of the excitement.
But what do you do with a stadium like the one TBS had in Detroit?
Just what Anderson & company did. They pointed out the obvious and compared it unfavorably with the ballpark joy they had experienced for two games in Baltimore. And then, they focused their attention on the game, which featured a superb pitching duel between Price and Bud Norris, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton.
I love Eckersley. Listening to him is like sitting in the bleachers at some out-of-the-way ballpark with an old-school scout who’s describing the game to you. Eckersley was all over the performance by Norris in a good way, referring to him constantly as “this kid.”
After Norris threw a wild pitch, Eckersley said, “He can launch ‘em with the best of ‘em, this kid. He’s got some hair, 95, 96. He can get it up there.”
Translation: Norris throws some wild pitches. And when he does, it’s hard to for the catcher to get to them since he throws 95 or 96 mph. “Hair” refers to Norris having that kind of exceptional velocity on his fastball.
My only complaint: Will TBS please do something with the tiny numbers in that dinky, low-rent window that tells us where the series stands but not the pitch count? Enlarge that window and give us some information in it that counts. Please.
This was a cut-and-paste playoff crew, with Anderson a regular on Milwaukee Brewers telecasts and Simpson a regular with the Atlanta Braves.