How Will Sportsnet Fare?

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Aug. 21) — Friday night and David Price.

It’s becoming a date, isn’t it?

A week ago, when Price took the mound against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, the Toronto Blue Jays were trying — for a fifth time — to break the franchise record of 11 consecutive victories in one season. The game was in doubt until an epic last at–bat, when Troy Tulowitzki finally succumbed to Yankees’ closer Andrew Miller after 12 pitches.

New York prevailed, 4–3. Winning streak over.

Sportsnet, the Blue Jays club–owned television network, claimed the match generated its largest viewing audience ever. And, there were no arguments. An average of 2.03 million Canadians tuned in — the telecast peaking at 3.14 million in the ninth inning, when Tulowitzki and Miller waged their colossal skirmish. Those, my friends, are Toronto Maple Leafs–Montreal Canadiens TV numbers for a Saturday night in mid–winter. Impressive, by any measure, and wholly indicative of the excitement generated by the Blue Jays trade–deadline acquisitions and simultaneous eruption toward first place in the American League East.

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MY PHOTO FROM A WEEK AGO TONIGHT OF ALEX RODRIGUEZ FLYING OUT AGAINST BLUE JAYS STARTER DAVID PRICE AT ROGERS CENTRE.

Momentum has slowed since last Friday, primarily because of the Blue Jays schedule. The club has played only four games — splitting the final two at home against the Yankees; then a Tuesday–Wednesday mini–series at Philadelphia, with nights off Monday and Thursday. Price, therefore, goes to the mound tonight in Anaheim in a different circumstance, with the Blue Jays 1½ games behind New York and the telecast against the Los Angeles Angels beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Given the late start, it’s a virtual certainty the game will not generate last Friday’s enormous audience. The result, however, is no–less important to the Blue Jays, who want to keep pace with the Yankees in the division and maintain a gap over the Angels and Baltimore for the number–one Wild Card spot in the American League. Going into tonight’s action, the Jays lead Los Angeles by three games; the Orioles by 3½, and Texas by five. Toronto concludes its three–city road swing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Arlington against the Rangers. Price will pitch on Wednesday and the series finale is a 2:05 p.m. EDT matinee.

It’ll be intriguing to see the numbers Sportsnet draws tonight.

AUGUST 21, 1985

Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays were apparently gripping 30 years ago tonight after a loss to the Indians at the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. To such an extent, in fact, that baseball writer Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun felt inclined to pen a therapeutic column. Blue Jays were motoring toward their first–ever playoff appearance and held a much–loftier position in the American League East than they do tonight.

These images from my 1985 baseball scrapbook:

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THE FULL–PAGE STORY.

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LOOK WHO WAS SLIDING INTO HOME PLATE AT MUNICIPAL STADIUM — NONE OTHER THAN THE BLUE JAYS CURRENT TV ANALYST ON SPORTSNET.

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THERE WERE ONLY TWO DIVISIONS IN EACH LEAGUE 30 YEARS AGO — THE WINNERS MEETING IN THE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES. TORONTO, WITH A BETTER RECORD THAN THE CURRENT TEAM, HELD A THREE–GAME LEAD ON THE YANKEES AND WOULD ULTIMATELY HOOK UP IN THE PLAYOFFS WITH KANSAS CITY, WHICH OVERCAME ITS 1½–GAME DEFICIT TO THE CALIFORNIA (NOW LOS ANGELES) ANGELS IN THE A.L. WEST. AS YOU CAN SEE, THE MILWAUKEE BREWERS WERE STILL IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE.

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THE TOP OF KEN FIDLIN’S ATTEMPT AT CATHARSIS FOR BLUE JAYS FANS. MY OL’ PAL KEN IS STILL GOING STRONG AS A BASEBALL WRITER AT THE SUN.

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