David Zurawik

TBS does excellent telecast of Orioles Game 1 loss to Yankees

Cal Ripken and TBS deliver solid coverage of Orioles in ALDS Sunday.

Up until the ninth inning, it was a great game, and TBS provided coverage worthy of it.

As I said in my review of Friday night's wildcard game, the broadcast team of Ernie Johnson on play by play and Cal Ripken and John Smoltz as analysts is a winner. Johnson's easygoing style creates a solid and steady baseline that allows Ripken and Smoltz to concentrate on taking viewers inside the game.

Smoltz was especially sharp Sunday in explaining how C.C. Sabathia managed to keep the Orioles off balance at the plate all night.

Mark Reynolds struck out looking on a pitch low and away early in the game, and you wondered how he could take a third strike that was that close.

But as the pitch, a slider, was being replayed, Smoltz explained how when it is thrown perfectly as that pitch was, it is a ball 95 percent of the way, and only at the last second, does it get a piece of the plate making it a strike at the farthest point away from the batter.

Long-time Orioles fans might remember Orioles closer Randy Myers living off that pitch the year the O's went wire to wire in first place. I have never seen it explained as clearly as Smoltz did Sunday. Nor have I see it captured as cleanly by the cameras.

And the replay and Smoltz were in perfect synch. Kudos to the director, producers and technicians for that. All night, TBS had near-instant replays and multiple camera angles of major plays.

The only important live moment the TBS cameras missed was a big catch by Chris Davis deep along the right field line to end a Yankees rally late in the game. But the corner in which he made the catch is a tricky one to cover. And within a second of him reappearing with the ball, the director was showing us replays from another angle so that viewers could admire the play.

I have sung the praises of the on-air folks in the booth enough. What I really liked Sunday was the effort by the camera persons and the director to allow viewers to feel some of the emotion at the park.

When Alex Rodriguez struck out in the first inning and wheeled on the home plate ump because he didn't like the call, the director took us instantly from A-Rod to the umpire up into the stands alongside home plate to show us in close-up the faces of the Orioles fans rising to their feet. We were close enough to see some of them yelling, "sit down," to Rodriguez. One or two might have been a little more graphic.

But it was the perfect extension of what I was doing in front of my TV at home as I saw A-Rod start to complain about the call. I came out of my seat and yelled at him to quit crying.

I can't recall the last time I felt so connected to a TV sports moment. But going that extra step and moving the cameras into the stands for close-ups of the fans rather than just holding it on A-Rod and the umpire was a brilliant directorial choice.

From that point on, TBS had me in its pocket. I trusted myself to the director, producers and the team in the booth, and I never felt they let me down.

That is not to say it was a perfect viewing experience. For all the glory of cable as the home of great TV drama, you are reminded if you watch as much playoff baseball as I have this weekend, how junky a channel like TBS can be at times.

If I see one more commercial for Captain Morgan rum, I am going on a bender myself until the World Series ends. And please, please, TBS, I beg no more "Cougar Town" promos. I thought I was done with Courteney Cox after "Friends."

As for Debby Boone and "Lifestyle Lift," I have no words. But I do want to thank TBS for reminding me of why I stopped watching Conan long ago. And I loved the Obama campaign commercial that tried to spin part of Wednesday night's debate into evidence that Obama is The One and Romney's a loser.

The promotional and commercial clutter between innings is astonishing. The only things that were missing Sunday night on TBS were ads for knives that never need sharpening and religious dating services.

But, hey, we all have to make a living, and I am glad for the coverage that TBS is providing with the money the channel is making with commercials for shows and stars that I am not so crazy about.

Seriously, I know some Baltimore fans will be angry about the loss and want to take it out on the channel that covered the game. And from emails I received I know some fans are still mad at Ripken for saying Friday night that Adrian Beltre is a better third baseman than Brooks Robinson was.

Getting mad at TBS about the loss or Ripken about his opinion is ignorant. Don't be ignorant.

I'll take Ripken's word on who plays third base best. And I urge you to take my word on what a fine job TBS is doing -- and enjoy its coverage of the games that remain. Maybe things will go better for the home team in Game 2.