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McCarver is prophetic, CBS pictures aesthetic and the NL pathetic


The comment was so timely, one might have guessed it was Jeane Dixon providing analysis on the All-Star telecast last night, not Tim McCarver.

No sooner had Atlanta right-hander John Smoltz come on as a reliever as the American Leaguers batted in the sixth inning when McCarver said, "What you have to watch out for here is the wild pitch."

The words were scarcely airborne when Smoltz bounced a pitch by his catcher and a run scored, the seventh by the Americans. To prove it was no fluke, Smoltz flipped another one halfway to the backstop and another run trooped in.

This call proved just one of many gems of information and conjecture dispensed by McCarver and his CBS play-by-play partner Sean McDonough to more than support the network's excellent pictures.

Good thing. After a strong start, the Nationals moved into reverse gear quite abruptly and it was essential that the words be up to sustaining interest.

Similar to the 48,147 lucky dogs at Camden Yards, fans stuck at home watching wanted to see home runs and a win by the home team.

So no matter what kind of a night CBS was having doing the game, it was a sure bet to get passing marks from viewers -- at least hereabout.

Considering the efforts of some of the local stations and ESPN the night before, the network faced a formidable task trying to sustain the madcap interest that has surrounded the All-Star celebration for days.

Despite being hindered by having to donate more than half its time to introduction of the players, etc., the pre-game show was punchy and a worthy lead-in for the action.

Easily the feature of the early going aside from three home runs resulting in a 2-2 tie arrived in the third inning, when the network was all over an incident involving Seattle pitcher Randy Johnson and Philadelphia hitter John Kruk.

The 6-foot-10 left-hander unloaded a fastball about six feet over Kruk's head at supersonic speed, and big, bad John wanted no more of this guy.

Cameras caught AL bench men guffawing, as if to say, "Take that, fella; we see that every day over in our league."

Another isolated shot showed the NL bench and manager Bobby Cox and his coaches shouting in unison, "He did that on purpose."

Whatever, the "intimidation" had its effect, Kruk refusing to come within 10 feet of the plate as he waved at strikes Nos. 2 and 3. Johnson accommodated by dropping down sidearm, thus delivering the ball from somewhere over near first base.

As if admitting it was all a setup, Johnson strode off the mound with a huge smile on his face as he crossed paths with Kruk at the conclusion of the inning.

After days of high excitement in the downtown area, the start of the game seemed calm by comparison, but it didn't take long for things to heat up when Gary Sheffield took AL starter Mark

Langston deep with a man aboard.

In the pre-game introductions, which seemed to take a week, AL manager Cito Gaston caught all sorts of what-for for naming a hundred Toronto Blue Jays to the team. Actually, the fans should have saved some of the wrath for his selection of Langston to start the game.

The lefty of the California Angels looked the part of the perfect batting-practice pitcher as he laid slow-breaking curves on the bats of the Nationals. What did we ever do before the center-field camera?

Once the powerful Americans were back in it with homers by Kirby Puckett in the second frame and Roberto Alomar an inning later, and moved ahead smartly with bursts of three in the fifth and sixth innings, it was now the announcers' time.

McDonough and McCarver, who are as smooth together as any team in the business despite working together just once a week, were at the top of their games offering interesting tidbits.

McDonough told the story of Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg doing rehab work in Florida up into May and the perennial All-Star asking his Single-A teammates about the postgame spread in the clubhouse. One of his mates mentioned that at that level of play, the concessionaire might drop off a few hot dogs from time to time.

With each batter, star or relative unknown, one of the Macs had an interesting side story, a welcome relief from those endless dissertations on pitcher-batter and base-running strategies, which have a tendency to induce coma.

For instance, did you know that Oakland catcher Terry Steinbach still holds the hockey scoring record at his high school in &L; Minnesota? Or that the all-time batting average for the All-Star Game is .243?

There were dozens of other inserts that, although hardly earth-shaking, had the desired effect of keeping one's interest as the Americans drew farther and farther away.

As far as AL fans were concerned, CBS picked an opportune time to show a tape of Bobby Cox's pre-game pep talk, the NL manager pointing out, "We're a much better league, I think, than the American League."

CBS no doubt made a huge hit with area viewers when Cal Ripken was interviewed on the pre-game show -- "No, I don't think my playing every game hurts the ballclub" -- and doubled back to catch him in the clubhouse after he had been taken out of the game. Yes, it's true, he came out.

It didn't hurt either that Brooks Robinson was featured on an American Express ad, extolling the virtue of the game and the Hall of Fame.

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