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Cardinals v Nationals NLDS Game 4

Washington starting pitcher and Wentzville native Ross Detwiler pitches during Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

Major League Baseball has been trying to push sales of its network by placing two postseason contests on it this year, including Game 3 of the Cardinals-Washington National League division series on Wednesday. But the result was a ratings thud in St. Louis and a bevy of unhappy fans who don't purchase MLB Network — or don't even have access to buying it because it's not carried by their programming provider.

The rating not only was significantly lower than what the Redbirds have been doing on TBS, the more widely-purchased station where the remainder of the series is being carried, but didn't even rival some regular-season viewership levels.

According to The Nielsen Co., only 11.7 percent of homes in the market with a TV tuned in to MLB Network for Wednesday's contest. That's after the first two games, on TBS, drew ratings of 20.7 and 20.2. (The figure for Thursday's Game 4 was not yet available.)

MLB Network's Game 3 coverage was by far the lowest-rated Cards telecast in this round of the playoffs in recent seasons. Their worst figure in the NL semifinals last year (vs. the Phillies) was 15.2 and the bottom number in 2009 (vs. the Dodgers) was 15.8.

To put things in perspective, 14 regular-season Cards telecasts this season had a rating equal to or higher than what MLB Network generated for a Redbirds playoff game. It's true that the number Wednesday was impacted by the earlier-than-usual start (12:07 p.m.), but moreso by the fact that MLB Network is purchased in what is estimated to be about 30 percent fewer homes than is TBS.

MLB Network also had a Oakland-Detroit contest, and the arrangement for it to air two games in this round runs into the future.

But the angst can end for Cards fans if their team wins tonight. No more Redbirds 2012 games will be shown on MLB Network or even TBS — which about 10 percent of those in the market don't buy.

Everything the rest of the way would be on KTVI (Channel 2), over-the-air or so-called "free TV'' that in St. Louis traditionally draws significantly better ratings than cable for sports events.

KTVI ROOTS FOR REDBIRDS

One of the people most interested in the outcome of tonight's contest is Channel 2 general manager Spencer Koch, because a Cards victory would provide his station a major boost. He estimated that a National League championship series appearance by the team would mean at least three times the number of viewers than otherwise would be watching KTVI — and double the revenue.

"It's a huge impact, combined with the fact you're in the middle of a heavy political season,'' Koch said Thursday. "There's just a lot going on.''

The bump could be long term. He said deep Cards postseason runs on KTVI in the past have led to a big ratings increase through the following February because viewers who tune in for baseball become accustomed to watching the station.

"More exposure brings greater awareness,'' he said. "Part of that is we hope the viewer likes our product,'' which is promoted heavily during the telecasts.

And a Redbirds victory tonight would set up a mega-Sunday for KTVI. It has the Rams-Miami game at noon, followed by the marquee Giants-49ers NFL game and the Cardinals would follow at night in Game 1 of the NLCS.

"You're talking about 12-13 hours of very highly rated programing that's going to give huge exposure to the station,'' he said. "We're hoping.''

Tonight's game is on TBS and is set to start at 7:37 p.m. Regardless of which team wins, Channel 2 airs the entire NLCS and World Series, with Joe Buck (play-by-play) and Tim McCarver (analysis) in the booth for both rounds.

TBS has the American League championship series, which begins Saturday. Ernie Johnson (play-by-play) will be joined by analysts John Smoltz and Ron Darling, with Craig Sager serving as the reporter.

HOMECOMING AT MU

Mizzou makes its first home appearance on CBS' Southeastern Conference television package on Saturday when the Tigers play No. 1 Alabama, (2:30 p.m., KMOV, Channel 4) and it will be a homecoming for CBS Sports college football coordinating producer Craig Silver, a 1981 MU graduate.

But don't look for shots on your screen of some of his old haunts such as Harpo's or his fraternity house, or even a lot of campus landmarks such as the columns.

"I'm not going to do that,'' he said Thursday between planning sessions in Columbia, adding that he's approaching it like any other SEC telecast he does and will focus on aerial shots to set the scene.

He also acknowledged that it would have been better for CBS if MU hadn't been beaten at home last week by Vanderbilt and hadn't lost its No. 1 quarterback for this game. But he expects the Tigers "to put up a good fight, as we often see in the SEC with home teams.''

Verne Lundquist does the play-by-play with Gary Danielson providing analysis and Tracy Wolfson serving as the reporter.

IN THE BOOTHS

Television announcer assignments for the other major area football games this weekend:

Rams, at Miami, noon Sunday (KTVI, Ch. 2) • Chris Myers (play-by-play), Tim Ryan (analysis), Jaime Maggio (reporter).

Illinois, at Michigan, 2:30 p.m. Saturday (KDNL, Ch. 30) • Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Danny Kanell (analysis), Lewis Johnson (reporter).

RAMS ON THE RISE

After a ho-hum beginning this season in the TV ratings business for the Rams despite a better-than-expected start, they experienced a significant rise last week for their prime-time Thursday game at home against Arizona.

Nielsen says 26.3 percent of homes with a TV in the market tuned in (19.9 rating on KPLR, Channel 11 and 6.4 figure on NFL Network), making it the Rams' best-rated game since the finale of the 2010 season — which they lost to Seattle in a contest that would have vaulted them into the playoffs if they had won. That "Sunday Night Football'' telecast (KSDK, Ch. 5) drew a 38.7 rating.

BLUES BIZ

Fox Sports Midwest had planned to be showing Blues games by now, but because of the NHL lockout there is nothing to air — live, that is. To fill part of the void FSM is re-airing some of their playoff games vs. San Jose last season, at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 8 p.m. Sundays. Up next, on Sunday, is Game 3. Game 4 of that series is set for Tuesday and the following Sunday.

The telecasts are subject to preemption for Cardinals postgame programming — FSM airs a show after all Cards playoff contests.

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