The TBS telecast got off to about as bad a start imaginable Friday night when the first American League Championship Series game had to be delayed for almost two minutes because of the channel's pregame show.

It wasn't that the show ran over, but rather that the high-powered TV lights used to brighten the set behind the bullpens in center field were on, and the home plate umpire thought they would distract Orioles and Kansas City Royals batters.


So as tens of thousands of fans in Camden Yards and millions of viewers looked on, what they saw was pregame-show analyst Pedro Martinez dancing and hotdogging it up for the fans out in center field, oblivious to the delay.

It took 1 minute, 45 seconds before they got all the lights turned off, and Martinez's antics seemed more annoying with every passing second.

Credit play-by-play announcer Ernie Johnson for saying, "We have to own this," though it would have been hard to blame the lights on anyone else. And I was glad to hear game analyst Ron Darling say what was surely on the minds of many Orioles fans: that such a delay in such a big game could throw starter Chris Tillman off his game.

Tillman was off his game, and had to be lifted in the fifth inning with the Orioles trailing 5-1, but it seems unfair to blame it on TBS. After all, for as rocky as he looked, Tillman did have a shutout through the first two innings.

Still, under the heading of "First, do no harm," TV never should interfere with the game itself, especially one as important as this. There is simply no way to be nice about this gaffe.

Things did improve considerably for TBS once the game got underway. Johnson is as good a play-by-play announcer as anyone could want. He lends a rock-solid underpinning to the entire production. His concentration never seems to wane, and his voice rises in enthusiasm at the right times. He is like a point guard, smoothly feeding analysts Darling and Cal Ripken Jr. during the telecast.

As for Ripken, the record of his performance is more mixed. I liked the delivery of his "Keys to the game" at the top of the telecast. He said the Orioles had to "call on their power"; win the game in "the first six innings," because of Kansas City's bullpen; and control the running game.

"Not stop the running game, just control it," he explained.

I thought he was more relaxed, focused and articulate than I could remember him being.

But then, in introducing the lineups, it sounded like he called Orioles left fielder Alejandro De Aza "Alexander De Aza." I replayed it twice, and it sounded like "Alexander" both times.

Maybe the problem was in how I heard it, not in how he said it, but there is no audio explanation for Ripken and Darling's failure to see and explain how off Tillman was all night.

As late as the third inning, when the Royals started scoring, Ripken still was saying that Tillman was "struggling with his control just a little bit." It looked worse than that to me.

I liked the idea of adding Mid-Atlantic Sports Network analyst Mike Bordick and Royals radio announcer Steve Physioc to the TBS team. From their apparent spots in the camera wells near the dugouts, they were from time to time asked for insights into their home teams. (The second time Johnson called on Physioc, the audio cut out as the Kansas City announcer started to speak.)

I liked what Bordick had to say when Showalter lifted Tillman: that the pitcher's "front shoulder had been flying out" all night. That's a far more serious and fundamental problem than "struggling with his control just a little bit," as Ripken said.


Overall, I once again absolutely loved the handheld-cameras-in-the-faces-of-fans feel of the telecast. TBS gets Camden Yards like no other out-of-town broadcaster. The producers appreciate the energy and color in the stands and know how to mine it for all it's worth.

As the Orioles rallied in the sixth inning and the TBS producers skillfully rode the electricity in the Yard, you had to like the comebacks made by both the home team and the cablecasters who had gotten off to such rocky starts.