ESPN has been bragging that it has its largest contingent of reporters/commentators ever covering the World Series this year, but it must have left the cupboard bare Saturday night as far as brainpower back at headquarters of the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports.''
After the Cardinals' Albert Pujols turned in the most spectacular individual offensive performance in the history of the World Series, the lead story for the rest of night on ESPN's website was Michigan State's victory over Wisconsin. That football game ended on a dramatic Hail-Mary defelected pass for a touchdown, and granted it was a wild play. On the field it was ruled that the player ending up with the ball, Keith Nichol, was stopped short of the goal line. But the call was reversed after a video review, thus making it the game-winning score.
It also was rated as No. 1 on the network's countdown of the day's 10-best plays or accomplishments -- Pujols was second.
So think about it -- while the football game was a thriller, it was a regular-season contest. And crazy finishes on Hail Mary passes usually happen a couple times a year in pro or college football. But Pujols had a game for the ages on his sport's biggest stage -- tying the Series single-game record for home runs (three), hits (five), RBIs (six), and breaking the mark for total bases (14) -- and it's ranked No. 2.
The fact the football game was on ESPN and the baseball contest wasn't fueled the fire for the conspiracy theorists, who either thought ESPN was bending toward it's own interests -- after all, ESPN is the king of self promotion -- or simply wasn't paying full attention to the Series because of its perceived East Coast bias and the fact the Yankees or Red Sox aren't involved this year.
At least some of ESPN's baseball analysts put things in perspective on the air before Sunday's contest.
"To me it was a privilege to watch,'' said Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who is working for ESPN during the Series. "It was amazing. This is the kind of night you're never going to forget in your life.''
Added longtime baseball writer and ESPN commentator Tim Kurkjian: "Albert Pujols is very close to joining the Mount Rushmore of hitters. It's Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and now Albert Pujols is very close.''
Cards vs. Rams
With the Rams in Texas over the weekend for their game Sunday against Dallas at Cowboys Stadium, which is walking distance from the baseball championship venue, the football team attended Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night. And that move by the winless Rams was met with harsh words from Bill Cowher, who coached the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times and now is a commentator for CBS. He ripped the decision Sunday morning on "The NFL Today.''
"Coach (Steve) Spagnuolo took his team to go see the World Series game last night. I would have spent more time, if I'm starting A.J. Feeley (at quarterback), I'd be watching more of Dallas' defense ... (than be) concerned about watching the hits taking place at the St. Louis (baseball) game - although there might be more hits in that game than there's going to be'' for the Rams.
Shot back fellow analyst and Hall of Fame former quarterback Dan Marino: "That's the coach talking. They're not winning any games. Let them have some fun.''
Shannon Sharpe, a Hall of Fame former tight end, chimed in saying the Rams will have fun only "if they sign Albert Pujols. Because that's the only hitting they're doing in St. Louis.''
On the air
There were no Pujols-style dramatics Sunday night in Game 4, or no potential tying run at the plate in the ninth inning as there was in the first two games, and Fox's telecast was workmanlike for the most routine game to date as Texas won 4-0 to tie the World Series.
Play-by-play man Joe Buck was in fine form in describing the biggest play of the night, Mike Napoli's three-run homer.
"That is tomahawked,'' Buck said. "Way-y-y out of here to left. And it's four-nothing Texas in the sixth.''
(On radio, KMOX's Mike Shannon had a pointed call: "Swing and a home run,'' he succinctly said.)
Fox also foreshadowed the other big story of the game, Derek Holland's masterful performance in which he blanked the Cardinals on two hits for 8 1⁄3 innings. Before the contest, Fox shows Rangers manager Ron Washington engaged in what appeared to be a father-to-son talk with him near the dugout and apparently giving Holland the encouragement he needed to excel. Both Washington's hands were affixed to on his young pitcher's shoulders, as it was a heart-to-heart moment, and he finished the pep talk by giving him a slap on the bill of the cap to make his point.
Those pictures ended up telling the story of the game.
But it wasn't all serious material, and one of the best moments came when Fox poked fun at itself. Early in the game it showed some cast members of new shows that will be on the network this season who were sitting in the stands, something it often does during the World Series in unabashed self-serving promotional fashion. It's the kind of horn-tooting that leads cynics to say, ‘‘they are out there in their seats there when the camera's on, but I bet they high-tail it out of there as soon as possible.''
Well, this time Fox followed through, showing a lot of empty seats there in the seventh inning.
"Six innings and flee,'' analyst Tim McCarver said.
"Maybe they're just out getting a snack,'' Buck said.
"I don't think so,'' McCarver responded.
"All of them at once,'' Buck added.
"Those seats look left,'' McCarver concluded.
After hours on TV
ESPN and MLB Network are providing much postgame coverage during the Series, but the most extensive locally-angled after-game coverage is on Fox Sports Midwest. FSM is providing analysis, doing its own interviews and showing news conferences as it comes on the air shortly after the game ends and generally is on for about an hour, although much lengthier coverage is expected after the Series finale if the Cards win.
Ratings for the Saturday-Sunday games are not yet available, and are expected to be released Monday by The Nielsen Co. Through the first two games, the average rating in St. Louis was 48.4 (meaning 48.4 percent of homes with a TV in the market were tuning in), and the number in Dallas-Fort Worth was 34.3. Nationally, Fox coverage was averaging an 8.8 rating, up one percent over the 8.7 figure last year.