Jays/Rangers Not A Best–of–Three

TORONTO (Oct. 10) — It is understandable that fans of the Toronto Blue Jays are forlorn after consecutive defeats at home in the American League Division Series. In less than 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, it seemed as if 2½ months of anticipation — 22 years for older fans — disappeared in a puff of smoke.

A quick reminder, however, that Sunday night’s third engagement in Arlington is not an exhibition match. Were this a best–of–three, the Blue Jays would have been eliminated after Friday’s 14–inning marathon, a 6–4 loss to the plucky Texas Rangers. In a best–of–five, there is still a heartbeat — one that will mightily accelerate should the visitors prevail with Marco Estrada on the mound. The notion is hardly implausible.

Yes, odds are long. Monstrously long.

In the playoff history of Major League Baseball, there have been 71 best–of–five rounds. On only eight occasions has a team rebounded to win after dropping the first two games. Merely two have done so after falling behind 2–0 on home turf — the 2001 New York Yankees (against Oakland) and the 2012 San Francisco Giants (against Cincinnati). For the Giants, it was a springboard to their second of three World Series titles since 2010. So, possibilities remain for the Blue Jays… with a razor–thin margin for error.

FSCN0513edited-XTHE BLUE JAYS NEED CONSECUTIVE WINS IN ARLINGTON SUNDAY AND MONDAY FOR RALLY TOWELS TO AGAIN APPEAR AT ROGERS CENTRE IN GAME 5 ON WEDNESDAY. DIFFICULT, BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

As a fan of the team, it makes little sense to give up now. Why invest so much faith in the Blue Jays from the end of July to the first week of October and capitulate, emotionally, while the club is still alive? Surely, you had to know that all the excitement of the pennant run ensued without a playoff guarantee. The Yankees and Pittsburgh battled throughout season to advance — the Pirates with the second–best record in the Majors — and neither could score even a run on home field in the Wild Card games. To this juncture of the playoff tournament, home teams are a lousy 2–6. The Texas Rangers are playing at home on Sunday night and, possibly, on Monday. The Blue Jays haven’t lost three consecutive games with a full line–up since July 8–9–10 — well before the defining trade acquisitions of Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere.

So, dare to dream a little.

Hang in for another day and imagine how you might feel if the Blue Jays win Game 3. Suddenly, possibilities will again flourish for the best team in baseball over the final two–plus months of the regular season. That’s all it will take. One win. Something your favorite club achieved 43 times in its final 59 games.

Remember: the ALDS is not a best–of–three.

KENNY AND THE BOYS

He is, without question, the busiest play–by–play broadcaster in North American professional sport and you’ll hear him call, on TV, whatever remains of the Blue Jays–Texas series.

Kenny Albert is subbing for Joe Buck in Games 1, 3 and, if necessary, 4 and 5 of the American League Division Series — leading the ‘A’ baseball crew on FOX with analysts Harold Reynolds, Tom Verducci and reporter Ken Rosenthal. The network has chosen to keep Buck on football this weekend; he and broadcast partner Troy Aikman will call the Seattle at Cincinnati NFL game Sunday afternoon. Bob Costas and former pitcher Jim Kaat described Game 2 of the Jays/Rangers Friday on the MLB Network.

I’ve known Kenny Albert for 30 years; we met when he was a public relations intern for the National Hockey League in the mid–1980’s and I was writing for the NHL’s official publication at the time, GOAL Magazine.

Since then, he’s gone on to cross–border fame as not only the son of legendary sportscaster Marv Albert, but a four–sport man in the booth. He is the long–time radio voice of the New York Rangers, a position his dad held between 1965 and 1995. Ken skips roughly 20 Ranger broadcasts per season as a result of his other duties: calling a weekly NFL game, and the Major League playoffs, for FOX (he handled a dozen Saturday afternoon baseball telecasts in the regular season). He worked for the NBC Sports Network during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, describing (among other games) the Anaheim Ducks/Chicago Blackhawks Western Conference final. Toss in the occasional New York Knicks NBA telecast for the Madison Square Garden Network (MSG) and Kenny is a man you’ll most frequently run into at an airport.

FSCN1298edited-XKENNY ALBERT RELAXES IN THE LOBBY OF A TORONTO HOTEL FRIDAY NIGHT.

I managed to corral my ol’ friend for half–an–hour on Friday night, after he attended Game 2 of the Blue Jays–Texas series. Kenny stayed over in town before catching a noon flight today to Dallas for Game 3.

His work schedule during the week had been typically hectic and will continue so, providing the Blue Jays are not swept by the Rangers. It began last Sunday with the New York Giants at Buffalo NFL game for FOX; his broadcast partner is former Syracuse University and Dallas Cowboys fullback Daryl (Moose) Johnston.

Kenny traveled to Chicago to do radio of the New York Rangers season opener Wednesday at the United Center (he works with ex–Rangers defenceman Dave Maloney). Then it was on to Toronto for Game 1 of the Jays and Rangers Thursday. Now in Dallas, he’ll call Game 3 of the American League Division Series (Sunday at 8:10 p.m. EDT). If Texas eliminates the Blue Jays, he’ll fly home to New Jersey for a few precious nights with wife Barbara; daughters Amanda and Sydney. Otherwise, he’ll stay in Dallas and call Game 4 on Monday (time TBD). If the ALDS ends at that point, he’ll go home and call the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. If the Blue Jays win twice in Arlington and force a deciding fifth match, Kenny will skip the hockey game return to Toronto for Wednesday night, then go to Montreal for the Rangers and Canadiens on Thursday. Sunday, it’s a “home” NFL game, as he’ll call Washington at New York Jets from MetLife Stadium for FOX. Next Monday (Oct. 19), it’s San Jose at the Rangers; Thursday, the New York Knicks at Boston, and a week from Sunday (Oct. 25), the Tampa Bay at Washington NFL game on FOX.

Whew! I’m exhausted from merely typing the above paragraph.

“It’s just what I do,” Kenny smiled. “My wife is great with my schedule and my daughters know nothing different than living with a traveling dad. I love every minute of it. I’ve never considered it a job.”

FSCN1323edited  FSCN1319editedKENNY (TOP–LEFT, WEARING PURPLE TIE) IN THE FOX BOOTH AT ROGERS CENTRE DURING GAME 1 OF THE BLUE JAYS/RANGERS SERIES ON THURSDAY WITH BROADCAST PARTNERS HAROLD REYNOLDS (BLACK VEST) AND TOM VERDUCCI. REPORTER KEN ROSENTHAL WAS AT FIELD LEVEL.

FSCN1305edited-X  RSCN1304edited-XIT IS CLEAR (TOP–RIGHT) WHICH ONE OF US HAS THE FACE FOR RADIO.

WEEKEND THOUGHTS: From the standpoint of versatility, Kenny Albert has a couple of peers north of the border — Chris Cuthbert and Gord Miller of TSN — each of whom Kenny truly respects. All three play–by–play men transition seamlessly from football to hockey (and in Kenny’s case, baseball and basketball). “Chris and Gord are both amazing,” Kenny says. “Most people have no idea how much preparation goes into a telecast. The viewer sees us when the game begins and assumes we know everything. But, it takes a lot of work. In my world, preparation for an NFL telecast begins the previous Monday. I read and study up on everything I can and watch as much video as possible. I’ll go into a city on Friday and attend the home team’s practice. We’ll meet with the coach afterward. Then, we’ll meet with the visiting team’s coach at their hotel on Saturday. I try to absorb everything I can”… Blue Jays fans may still be wondering — with some justification — why the video–review center in New York did not overturn a call at second base in the top of the 14th inning on Friday. Rougned Odor (him again!) was called safe on a slide, yet it appeared he briefly disengaged from the bag with Troy Tulowitzki’s glove (and the ball) on his right leg. A stop–action close–up on the MLB Network telecast showed apparently–conclusive distance between the bottom of Odor’s cleats and the second–base bag. But, the call on the field stood and Odor came around to score the winning fifth Texas run on a single by Hanser Alberto. Neither the audience at Rogers Centre nor the Blue Jays players could believe the decision. From the baseball video–room perspective, however, there may not have been conclusive evidence that Tulowitzki’s glove was in contact with Odor’s leg at the moment in question. Here’s the image from the telecast. Decide for yourself…

FSCN1289edited-XPrior to the bottom of the 13th inning on Friday, Bob Costas appropriately wondered “how many more times the Texas pitching staff can be expected to subdue the Blue Jays ‘Murderer’s Row’ top of the line–up.” Josh Donaldson (though he hit a solo home run early in the game), Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion had been mostly quiet to that point and would continue to be in the bottom of the inning. Bautista walked with one out; Donaldson struck out swinging against reliever Keone Kela and Encarnacion flied out to center. Texas scored the decisive runs in the top of the 14th… I wondered which among hockey, baseball, football and basketball is Kenny Albert’s favorite. He smiled and said, “that’s like asking a father of four children which one he loves most. How do you answer? I suppose I grew up with hockey more than the others. Strangely enough, though living in New York, I was a Vancouver Canucks fan.” I didn’t ask why… Kenny’s famous dad, Marv Albert, is now 74 and still calling NBA games for Turner Broadcasting… It won’t be long before hockey fans here in town begin to wonder if the Maple Leafs could score at the Playboy Mansion. The ice has been a challenge through the first two games of the regular season: a 3–1 home loss to Montreal on Wednesday and 4–0 set–back at Detroit on Friday. Other than James van Riemsdyk, who counted the lone tally, and the oft–injured Joffrey Lupul, the Leafs do not have a proven sniper. This, of course, is no surprise given the assortment of pluggers on the team but it’s likely to become a demoralizing factor. When it gets to the point where the Leafs believe they will not score, Mike Babcock will have to spin some coaching magic just to keep his forces engaged. Hockey players are not robots. Once they begin to sense defeat before taking the ice, the challenge becomes monumental. This is where the “pain” and patience will be tested most severely. And, it’ll start happening soon… If you still wonder about John Gibbons’ capacity to manage big–league egos and personalities, continue to watch Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki and Kevin Pillar whine and gesticulate every time a strike is called on them. It’s amazing how these guys can play and umpire at the same time. Bautista, in particular, cannot comprehend a strike unless he swings and misses. Then, he often glares at the ump for “setting him up” with a bad call. Pillar, for a young player, asks way too many questions when at the plate. Imagine the kid gloves with which Gibby has to treat these multi–millionaires away from the field… Friday was a remarkably coincidental anniversary around Rogers Centre, being 10 years to the day that long–time Blue Jays radio voice Tom Cheek died of brain cancer and one year since the death of beloved program seller Ralph Platner. Both have been remembered at the Dome — Cheek with a spot on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence; Platner with a memorial plaque in the stadium. Ol’ Ralphie should now be emblazoned in the Ring of Honor at local synagogues. Nobody, back in the 60’s and 70’s, crashed a Bar Mitzvah reception with as much anticipation. If Ralph didn’t show up unannounced for a tart and a coffee, it wasn’t a party. I’ll forever be proud that he was a “guest” at my Bar Mitzvah on Feb. 5, 1972… Poor Dion Phaneuf. How can it be possible for him to state differently the chagrin of losing — game after game; season after season? As captain of the Leafs, he is called upon by the inquisitive media after every outing. He exhausted his best lines several years ago… In a way, it doesn’t seem like a true baseball post–season without hearing the names Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner, Angel Pagan, Bruce Bochy and others. The San Francisco Giants have won three of the past five World Series. It’s their “turn” again next autumn.

RSCN0179edited-XTOM CHEEK’S REMARKABLE CONSECUTIVE–GAMES STREAK IS ON DISPLAY ALONG THE BLUE JAYS LEVEL OF EXCELLENCE AT ROGERS CENTRE. CHEEK DIED OF BRAIN CANCER ON OCT. 9, 2005.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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