Series matchup of Braves, Yanks doesn't guarantee thrilling finish


Just because their last assignment was one of the most dramatic postseason series in baseball history, NBC's Bob Costas and Joe Morgan know that it doesn't necessarily follow that this year's World Series will be more of the same.

The widely celebrated pair were behind the mikes for the National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets, which had as many dramatic turns as a Robert B. Parker mystery.

Though Sunday's 15-inning marathon, won by the Mets 4-3, has become etched in the public's consciousness, Morgan is partial to Tuesday's Game 6, captured by Atlanta in the 11th on a bases-loaded walk after blowing a 5-0 lead, as the true classic.

"It showed the reason why baseball is the greatest sport," said Morgan yesterday on a conference call. "I don't think any other sport can build the intensity that baseball can. You can have a great quarter or a great individual effort [in other sports], but a baseball game keeps you on the edge and those last few innings [Tuesday] shows you what it's all about."

But Morgan and Costas are warning fans that there's no automatic carry-over of drama from one baseball playoff to the next.

"You need to build to a point of tension [in each series]," said Costas. "Most of the greatest World Series moments come toward the end of the Series when you can get a fix on what is happening and the stakes get higher."

This year's World Series matchup, between the Braves and the New York Yankees, has a larger feel to it than most, as the two franchises battle not just for supremacy in 1999, but for the unofficial title of Team of the Decade, given their repeated success in the postseason.

And frankly, NBC can use the drama. World Series ratings have steadily fallen over the past few years, bottoming out with last year's 14.1 rating, the lowest in history.

The network can, of course, take comfort in the fact that Tuesday's Braves-Mets finale was the highest-rated LCS game in six years, suggesting that people are interested in watching good baseball.

Whether they get it is up to the teams.

"The actor's only as good as his script, and a broadcaster is only as good as the game, to a large extent," said Costas, who, along with Morgan, won an Emmy for his work in the 1997 Series.

All Series games will air on Channel 11, with Hannah Storm anchoring the pre-game show at 7: 30 p.m., flanked by Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin in an analysis role. Costas and Morgan will take over, probably around 8 p.m., with Jim Gray and Craig Sager doing field reports.

On the radio side, Jon Miller makes his annual return to local airwaves, calling the Series for ESPN Radio, heard locally on WBAL (1090 AM). Miller will be joined in the booth by former Orioles hurler Rick Sutcliffe, with Charley Steiner and Dave Campbell reporting from the field. Air time is 7: 30 p.m. for tomorrow and Sunday night.

Around the dial

The curtain comes down on one of the more venerable, if unheralded basketball facilities in the country, the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., as TNT airs an NBA exhibition doubleheader from there tonight. Either Phoenix or Miami will take on Golden State in the opener at 8 p.m., with the host Lakers meeting the Suns or the Heat in the second game (about 10: 30 p.m.).

The Maryland-North Carolina football game has been moved to 3: 30 p.m. tomorrow to accommodate an ABC regional audience, with the game airing on Channel 2. ESPN's No. 1 college football team of Ron Franklin and Mike Gottfried will invade Clemson's Death Valley for the historic meeting between Tigers coach Tommy Bowden and his father Bobby's Florida State Seminoles at 7 p.m. tomorrow. CNN/SI's Paul Crane sat down with the Bowden family for a piece airing on tomorrow's "College Football Preview" at 11: 30 a.m.

CNN, Fox and ESPN each plan NFL pre-game show features Sunday on the misfortunes of the Minnesota Vikings, with CNN's program starting at 10 a.m., ESPN's telethon tipping off at 11 a.m. and Fox's carnival commencing at noon (Channel 45). Over on Fox Sports Net, Denver coach Mike Shanahan will attempt to alibi the Broncos early-season troubles in a live interview on "The NFL This Morning" (Home Team Sports, 11 a.m.). "The NFL Today," meanwhile, will have a feature on Buffalo's Doug Flutie (Channel 13, noon).

Finally, from the ring, Prince Naseem Hamed meets Cesar Soto in a featherweight bout at 8 tonight on HBO, while Mike Tyson fights in a non-pay-per-view fight for the first time in nearly four years at 11 tomorrow night against Orlin Norris on Showtime.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):

Event Day Ch. R/S

NLCS Game 6 Tue. 11 13.2/23

NLCS Game 5 Sun. 11 11.3/17

NLCS pre-game Tue. 11 10.3/16

NLCS post-game Tue. 11 8.7/28

Giants-Cowboys Mon. 2 8.7/15

NLCS Game 3 Fri. 11 7.4/14

Packers-Broncos Sun. 45 7.4/12

ALCS Game 5 Mon. 45 6.7/11

Vikings-Lions Sun. 45 6.3/14

Patriots-Dolphins Sun. 13 6.2/13

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