The opening act of the playoffs was ultimately rewarding for the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays.
On my TV, it also played out as the best performance of the season.
After six months of uninterrupted gibberish from Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler on Sportsnet, there were moments of lucid commentary from the TV announcers during the Jays series win over the Texas Rangers.
The Fox crew was semi-competent – Harold Reynolds providing the semi – and fascinating in its attempts to speak Canadian.
On the MLB Network, Costas & Company were especially erudite in a dissertation on the relationship between baseball and short people.
Here are my most noteworthy TV flashes – with an italicized assist from Pal Hal on the Left Coast – from the Toronto-Texas series that wrapped up Wednesday:
The 90-minute pre-game extravaganza on Sportsnet featured all the usual baseball talkers, plus Don Cherry, who brought his bully pulpit to the SkyDome.
The 81-year-old blowhard said Major League Baseball ordered the roof shut because the Jays play better when it’s open.
“It’s a Canadian conspiracy commissioner Manfred’s got against Canada that he’s got this dome closed,” Cherry blustered. “It’s absolutely rigged.”
Pal Hal: These TD bank “Stir the Pot” TV ads are beyond laughable – trying to connect the actor/customer getting a loan with the multimillionaire Jays.
The Fox crew – Kenny Albert, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci – are yucking it up in the first inning.
Verducci: “Harold, you haven’t been here for a while, you were worried you didn’t speak Canadian.”
Albert, otherwise a pro, gets in a pickle when he tries to speak Canadian – Tor-on-TOE – and mangles with word “organ-EYE-Say-tion, as they say north of the border.”
It came as relief when the TV schedule came out with Buck and Pat not on the playoff roster. That Harold Reynolds has access to a Fox mike is inexcusable but a small price to pay to be able to deactivate the mute button for the first time in months, and enjoy some of the sounds of baseball.
The scores: Rangers 5, Jays 3; 386 hockey promos on Rogers Sportsnet.
Bob Costas is in the booth for the MLB Network, expressing admiration for a fellow Lilliputian, Marcus Stroman, throwing warmup pitches in the top of the first.
“He says he is not phased by big games – and he acknowledges this himself – perhaps because he’s a diminutive guy by big league pitching standards and had been frequently told he would not make it.”
After a Jays season with Buck and Pat in the booth, having Costas and Jim Kaat handle Game Two was akin to the junior high theater club being relieved by the Broadway cast.
Top of the third, Costas throws to his diminutive reporter at field level.
“Marcus Stroman, five-foot-eight, kind of appeals to me own heart,” says Ken Rosenthal.
“You and me both,” says Costas.
“Absolutely. And guess what? His personal motto is HDMH – height doesn’t measure heart,” Rosenthal says of Stroman, who delivers a perfect pitch.
“A called third strike,” says Costas, “should inspire those who don’t top six-feet even further.”
“And my boyhood idol,” adds the 6-4 Kaat, “one of the little lefties of all time – Bobby Shantz – was 5-6, the 1952 MVP.”
Costas tells us Stroman is wearing the No. 6 to honor his grandmother, who died last March 6, a piece of news I don’t recall being delivered by the boys at Sportsnet.
How refreshing and enjoyable to have all of the commentary delivered with the right inflection, in a cadence that most English-speaking fans can relate to, delivering information with insight and humor.
Costas recites the full name of the Toronto catcher – Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin Jr. – and riffs on a John Coltrane number when he concludes:
“We can say that Martin has helped the Jays take some ‘Giant Steps’ in the American League East this year.”
Tweaking the pace of the game, Costas says in the 13th inning: “About four hours ago Josh Donaldson hit a home run.”
Kaat, not missing a beat, skewers MLB for the odd 12:45 game time: “It’s nice that they start these extra inning games early.”
The scores: Rangers 6, Jays 4 in 14 innings; 643 hockey promos on Sportsnet.
In the top of the fourth in Arlington, Jose Bautista lines a ball into the stands along the first base line, which for some inexplicable reason, prompts Reynolds to say:
“We were talking about foul balls in the stands up in Toronto. Because there’s not a lot of people that grew up playing baseball in Canada, they’re not used to catching a lot of balls hit into the stands.”
The scores: Jays 5, Rangers 1; 3,863 angry tweets from Canadians who say they can catch a baseball; 287 hockey promos on Sportsnet.
Before the game, Reynolds apologizes to ham-handed Canadians: “Happy Thanksgiving. I’m sorry I upset everybody in Canada.”
The scores: Jays 8, Rangers 4; 786 tweets from Canadians – 785 of them from Don Cherry – who refuse to accept Reynolds’ apology; too many hockey promos to count on Sportsnet.
The score: Jays 6, Rangers 3
Reynolds: “It was just an incredible game, the intensity and the controversy. You’re never going to see another game like this.”
Until the next time Rule 6.03 (a) is interpreted and there are four errors and a game-winning home run in the same inning.