There were no Yankees gumming up the works this time. No Ichiro. No big pitching matchup between Arizona and St. Louis.
There was nothing to distract the national attention from the National League Divisional Series between Atlanta and Houston on Friday. The Braves took full advantage of the situation and so did much of the media. Bobby Cox's charges clinched their series on national television Friday, taking America into the weekend with a sweep of the Astros on Fox's national broadcast.
Atlanta starter John Burkett got a great deal of pub, backup catcher Paul Bako became the new favorite flavor of the week and the ongoing woes experienced by the Houston Astros in the postseason were well chronicled. SportsCenter led off its 11 p.m. broadcast with the Braves and devoted nearly seven minutes to the game.
The all-sports network went with a hefty amount of highlights, interviews -- Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell -- and graphics.
As for the actual game broadcast itself, the "show" was equally as crisp as during Games 1 and 2, which were televised on the Fox Family Channel. Rod Allen was back as the analyst while Mel Proctor took over for Kenny Albert as the play-by-play man. The transition from Albert to the veteran Proctor was smooth.
Proctor, like Albert, remained in the background, preferring to let the game and the situation come to him rather than talk just for the sake of talking. He provided some colorful background on Burkett's passion for bowling, told some interesting stories about Braves General Manager John Schuerholz and didn't get too carried away at any point in the broadcast.
While Allen picked up where he left off in Games 1 and 2 in terms of insight, he once again used the word "filthy" to describe a pitch. Attempting to create a new buzzword or use the all-too-weak Stuart Scott "slang" approach to broadcasting takes away from Allen's excellent performance.
Two minor drawbacks of the broadcast involved the microphone worn by Atlanta third-base coach Ned Yost and the announcing team not really addressing the issue of the crowd. The Yost microphone should have been used more. It could have provided a great glimpse into how the third-base coach interacts with the players, umpires and fans during the game.
As for the crowd, there were an embarrassing number of empty seats at The Ted. Allen and Proctor passed it off as Atlanta fans being used to winning. The situation could have and should have been discussed further with some kind of reaction from inside the Braves organization regarding the continued apathy of the fans.
One final plus. Fox didn't go overboard with shameless self-promotion regarding this weekend's NFL games on the network. They kept the broadcast about baseball and didn't let much else interfere.
One of the bigger local topics for the Atlanta media was Bako's day. Bako's wife is late in her pregnancy and began having contractions while the team was still in Houston. While she is late in her pregnancy, Bako's wife is not ready to give birth just yet. So with the help of medication, the contractions subsided and Bako was able to be at the park for Friday's game.
|The Braves celebrate their Game 3 victory over the Astros.
It made for a feel-good story that was played up big in both The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Augusta Chronicle, the main papers that cover the Braves. Bill Zack, the outstanding Braves beat writer at The Chronicle, also compared Atlanta closer John Smoltz with John Rocker and Mark Wohlers, closers of the past. He talked to pitching coach Leo Mazzone.
Wrote Zack: "Pitching coach Leo Mazzone took pains not to mention Mark Wohlers or John Rocker specifically, but everyone knew who he was talking about when he discussed John Smoltz's domination in the closer's role."
"I think the one thing that really is a pleasure to see is a closer come in with good control,'' Mazzone said. "That's not to knock anybody else, it's just that it seems like how the closer role has evolved is, it's somebody that can come in and throw 100 miles an hour and everybody goes 'ohhh' and 'ahhh' and nobody knows where the ball is going. You look up and there's runners on first and second and two out every time you're trying to close out a game.
"Smoltz is coming in, firing bullets, throwing a nasty slider, a nasty split, but he has good control. I think being a starting pitcher helps with your control if you're going to close. Just like a guy like Eckersley, who had great control."
This wonderful thinking-outside-the-box mentality has made Zack one of the best baseball guys in the country.
The Atlanta media also seized the opportunity to discuss the teamwork displayed by the Braves and how understudies [Bako] and castoffs [Burkett, Franco] are not lost in the grand scheme of Schuerholz' plan. But they were not alone in their thinking. Los Angeles Times writer Bill Shaikin offered almost the same observation in one well-stated paragraph.
"The Braves advanced to the championship series yet again Friday, with a 6-2 victory that wrapped a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros. Maddux and Glavine did not pitch Friday; Smoltz pitched one inning. In the spirit of Cabrera, Bream, Mark Lemke and Luis Polonia, the Braves evicted Houston from the playoffs thanks to their latest batch of unsung and unlikely postseason heroes. John Burkett, Paul Bako, Rey Sanchez and Julio Franco, take a bow. You too, Steve Reed and Steve Karsay."
While the Atlanta media celebrated the Braves effort, the Houston media -- actually all the media -- print and broadcast, buried Larry Dierker and his Astros. That was expected for sure. Houston's tiresome act of losing in the postseason will be on the minds of many that follow baseball for much of the winter.
Said Fran Blinebury of The Houston Chronicle:
"Listening to the Astros say there are plenty of other major-league teams that would love to have won four division titles in the past five seasons reminds you of those days when Mom tried to convince you to clean your plate. Sure, there are starving teams in Montreal and Tampa, but that doesn't make the cold broccoli, lumpy mashed potatoes and another first-round loss easier to swallow."
Andrew Marchand, in typical Post style, had one of the best lines of all the coverage regarding Friday's game. Marchand, who covers the Mets for The Post, had a sidebar to Friday's game about Moises Alou's impending free agency. Marchand spoke to the Houston outfielder prior to the game about the possibility of playing in New York next year, and then watched as Alou proceeded to not produce in the game. Here's Marchand's take:
"Even Moises Alou didn't hit in the clutch. Alou, perhaps affected by talking with The Post about becoming a Met, left four runners in scoring position in his first two at-bats."
That's New York Post self-promotion at its best.
Kevin Czerwinski is covering the NLDS for MLB.com