With as much electricity as there appeared to be at Camden Yards on Thursday night, it would be hard not to have a high-energy telecast.
Give cable channel TBS credit for that: It did a solid job of communicating the color, excitement and sheer joy in the stands for the American League Division Series opener as the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers, 12-3. It might seem like an obvious choice, but coming out of commercials time and again with hand-held cameras in the face of fans in full orange-and-black regalia as they clapped, cheered and waved signs was definitely the way to go. I loved the field-level shots looking up into the stands.
In the first inning, the stadium was rocking so hard, the TBS cameras were shaking. Play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson wisely and smoothly explained the shaky picture in terms of the intensity in the stands, lest any viewers thought there was something wrong with their TVs. (Some did at first; I have the emails to prove it.)
Give TBS credit, too, for not cutting corners in personnel or cameras. With all the playoff games they are covering, that could be a real temptation. But they put two analysts alongside Anderson in the booth, and the trio provided a steady stream of facts, commentary and analysis throughout the game without getting in the way of what was happening on the field. TBS also added a reporter, Jaime Maggio, on the field.
Anderson established a strong underpinning to the broadcast with his play-by-play call. There was nothing exceptional about it. But by the end of the game, it was clear that he had given viewers everything they needed to know without becoming a distraction, as local announcers sometimes do.
The gem of the TBS production was Dennis Eckersley's analysis. An outstanding former relief pitcher himself, Eckersley was constantly ahead of what the pitchers were going to do and usually instantly able to pinpoint what was going wrong or right with their performance. Listening to Eckersley was as good as listening to Jim Palmer, and that's high praise in my book.
Tigers ace Max Scherzer had delivered only a handful of pitches when Eckersley suggested that he didn't seem to be at the top of his game. He was right. Before the inning ended, Nelson Cruz had put the Orioles ahead with a two-run homer to right field.
At the start of the third inning, Eckersley instantly noticed that Scherzer seemed to have found himself, particularly with his slider crossing the plate at a different angle and with more bite.
Sure enough, when the trio interviewed Tigers manager Brad Ausmus between innings, he said that Scherzer was indeed off at the start of the game, but that he and the team's pitching coach made an adjustment before the start of the third. The key to the adjustment: the angle of release on the slider.
Eckersley manages to talk that baseball talk and still make it intelligible to the average listener. When he refers to a "wipe-out slider" or "dialing it up" on a 97-mph fastball, you don't have to be a baseball insider to know what he's talking about. Yet his language brings some color to conversation.
In the end, though, the joy of watching this telecast was in seeing the sea of orange and black at Camden Yards and feeling some of what it was like to be in the stands. After J.J. Hardy's late-inning home run, the cameras panned back and forth over the crowd, riding that wave of energy for all it was worth.
I wish I could have been there at that moment. But I'm grateful that the producers from TBS knew enough to get their cameras as close to it as they could — and to keep their team in the booth from talking over it.