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Our Voices For All Seasons

Posted By Greg Prince On October 6, 2005 @ 1:04 am In Main Page | Comments Disabled

You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.
—Nate Fisher

This year’s Nikon Camera players of the year are Gary Cohen and Howie Rose. At the end of the season, the players of the year will have their efforts lovingly admired by this blog.

It was no contest. If they’re doing their jobs well, the radio guys are going to win every year. You could argue that there’d be no need for them if it weren’t for the likes of Pedro and Cliff and David, but you’d be wrong. The baseball players come and go. The baseball announcers stay with us. When it was Al and Mike and Robin; when it was Izzy and Lance and Rico; when it was Doc and Darryl and Keith; when it was Swannie and Mazz and Hendu; when it was Tom and Buddy and Cleon, you were going to watch and listen no matter whose actions were being described. But it would be tough to take if you couldn’t handle the voices bringing the players to you, because the Mets, let’s face it, haven’t always provided the most pleasant entertainment imaginable.

It was the announcers who were and are the relative constants. Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson first and foremost. Tim McCarver and Steve Zabriskie and Gary Thorne and Rusty Staub later. Dave O’Brien and Tom Seaver and Ted Robinson and Keith Hernandez and Ed Coleman of late. Some others were sprinkled in along the way, some sticking around longer than others, whether we wanted anything to do with them or not.

But we’re not here to bury anybody. We are here to praise Gary Cohen and Howie Rose.

Together, they are the single best reason to be a Mets fan. You will almost never be sorry you tuned into one of their broadcasts. You will almost always be happy that you did, win or lose. Cable companies will forever attempt to outfox one another, with the home viewers ultimately playing the blacked-out victim, but if you own a radio, you’re fine. You’re more than fine. You’re in luck. You have Gary Cohen and Howie Rose talking Mets baseball to you night after day after night.

How lucky can you get?

Theoretically, you can listen to Mets games without being a Mets fan. I’m continually surprised at how many Yankees fans call WFAN to express dismay with their own broadcasts and freely admit, “I’m not a Mets fan, but I’d rather listen to their games.” But if you are a Mets fan, particularly one who grew up not long after Gary and Howie did and absorbed the details attendant to eternal Mets fandom as they experienced them, then you’re living right. Because Gary and Howie are talking to you.

I pay some absurd sum to have cable television in my household, ensuring (on paper) that I will be able to watch every single game in the course of a season. The pictures are nice. But I tend to turn the sound down. Games that are televised by ESPN or Fox are automatically lowered in volume. I have no interest in what strangers are trying to tell me about my team. The games that are (or were) on MSG and FSN-NY and WPIX I might stick with a little longer because those guys are around the team on at least a semi-regular basis. But eventually, there will be a game situation that I will feel I am at a loss to understand if I don’t take advantage of the explanation that’s forthcoming on the FAN.

Yet it’s about more than incisive commentary or thorough descriptions or the slight adjustment in cadence that differentiates a deep fly that’s going to be caught at the track from one that’s OUTTA HERE! crucial seconds before the outcome is known. It’s the narrative. The backbeat. The space between pitches. Gary Cohen and Howie Rose are the baseball season. They are the sound we hear virtually every day for six months. They are the sound we long to hear every day for the other six months.

Gary has been announcing Mets games on WFAN since 1989. Howie began hosting the Mets Extra pre- and post-game shows on WHN (now the FAN) in 1987. Before that, he covered the team as a reporter for radio and Sportsphone (remember Sportsphone — you’ll understand why later). He began doing regular play-by-play on TV in 1996 before moving into the radio booth to succeed (not replace) Bob Murphy in 2004.

They’ve been full-time partners for only two seasons. That’s incredible. Granted, they worked in proximity to each other much longer and Howie did frequent fill-in duty on the radio side, but they’ve only been a team this year and the one before it. It feels like we’ve been listening to them for decades.

In a way we have. Not only did they grow up as Mets fans, retaining untold thousands of nuggets from their childhood on, but they obviously learned their craft by listening to Mets games. You won’t mistake either for Bob Murphy, but you can hear the influence of Murph on both of them. There is no “we” in their play-by-play vocabulary, explicit or implied. As loosey-goosey as they might get for a moment or two, the game always takes precedence and the calls are always fair. It’s not about the announcer, it’s about the listener. Murph was that way and Gary and Howie, even with their straying into pop-culture territory and occasional soapbox moments, play it straight. They can try to be funny because they know their stuff and they know their audience (can’t say Mets fans don’t have a sense of humor), but they would never overdo the shtick, save maybe in the blowiest of blowouts. Most of what they laugh about is stuff we would laugh about because we and they are so comfortable with each other.

When they were paired together following Murph’s retirement, I did have a few quiet doubts. They’re both so similar in background that I thought two Jewish, Queens-born, 1960s-bred announcers who aspired to the jobs they had attained might try to one-up one another. It hasn’t been that way at all. Theirs are distinct voices that mesh beautifully.

Gary is professional to a fault, but listen enough and you’ll notice he wears his disgust on his sleeve for certain players or at least certain styles of play.

Howie will go a long way to speak in full paragraphs, never mind complete sentences.

Gary is passionate when so moved, but just a little transparent about betraying weariness with bad baseball.

Howie is a touch quicker in conversation, perhaps from all those years of taking phone calls for five hours a night (though he rarely does it any longer, he remains the best sports talk show host New York has ever had).

Gary, like Vin Scully, is a maestro when he has the mic to himself. He is usually a step ahead of both managers on the field below.

Howie is apt to frame any given development in the grander scheme of Mets’ things, again a likely byproduct of his sports talk experience.

Gary is the perfect filter for the drama of the big inning. He describes it, he explains it and he enhances it naturally.

Howie still feels a bit like a fan who can’t believe how lucky he is to have this gig. It makes him a great companion for the ordinary inning when three up, three down is three up, three down.

Gary builds a game while it’s in progress. He knows when three up, three down is something more than three up, three down.

Howie can punctuate every at-bat with some bit of relevant Mets minutia that links a single pitch with 44 years of franchise history.

Gary is the best in the business.

Howie is only getting better.

Together, they call a game the way you would want it to be called as a Mets fan and as baseball fan. There are no missed pitches, no wondering whether the last one came in on the inside or outside corner, no doubts as to how the double play was turned. If there is a mistake, it is corrected, apologized for and put in the past. Nothing gets in the way of you and me learning what’s going on and learning more about baseball every time we tune in.

Gary Cohen and Howie Rose broadcasting a Mets game is my definition of joy. I will listen to them anywhere: in theaters, on trains, in restaurants, in my car, in my living room, in my bathroom, in my bedroom, in my mind.

Perhaps it is best to let their work speak for itself.

There must be between 45,000 and 50,000 pitches in the course of any team’s season. There were 310 in the game the Mets played against the Marlins on September 21. Here are 32 of them, as delivered by the best announcing team in baseball.

TOP OF THE FIRST

HOWIE: Tonight’s first pitch is brought to you by Fox News Channel, your home base for news. And as Juan Pierre heads to the batter’s box, to get you started with the play-by-play, here’s Gary Cohen.

GARY: Thanks very much Howie, and a big start for Jae Seo in a number of ways.

Number one, ’cause he’s trying to bounce back from a down effort against the Nationals his last time, but also because he faced the Marlins two-and-a-half weeks ago, and second times around for Seo are very important right now.

Juan Pierre leads off. First pitch on the way is taken high, one ball no strikes.

In many ways, Jae Seo’s a different pitcher now that he was his first two years in the big leagues. He’s got an increased repertoire, a little more confidence…

Pierre went oh-for-six last night. The one-oh from Seo, he bluffs a bunt, takes a strike, one and one.

So it’s interesting to see how much of Seo’s success is based on teams’ lack of familiarity with his new way of pitching and how much of it is the fact that Seo has the chance to be the kind of dominant pitcher he’s shown himself to be so far.

Here’s the one-one pitch to Pierre…BUNTED…up the third base line…charging Wright, barehands and throws…WIDE of the bag; down the line but backed up by Cairo who makes a diving stop, and now he’ll toss it to Jacobs, and he’s gonna put a tag on Pierre ju-u-ust to make sure Pierre did not take a turn, and the first base umpire Dana DeMuth says he did NOT.

And so Pierre is safe at first base with a bunt single.

Wright with a good throw would have HAD him; Wright came charging in, he had to come a LONG way to get it and make the barehand stop, but his throw was well to the infield side of the first base bag. Jacobs dove for it, couldn’t get it, and Cairo dove the other way toward the line to flag it down to keep Pierre from goin’ to second.

So, Pierre, who was held hitless last night, gets aboard with a bunt.

And now Jeff Conine will be the batter.

BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH

HOWIE: Tonight’s Mets broadcast is brought to you by Axa Financial, a leader in financial protection and wealth management. Visit Axa dot com. Axa Financial — be LIFE confident.

Last of the fourth inning, this game tied at two as Mike Lowell went deep for Florida to get them back even.

David Wright, Mike Piazza, Victor Diaz to do the hitting against Jason Vargas here in the fourth inning. Vargas making his first-ever appearance against the Mets, so a bit of a learning curve for him.

Wright hit a soft ground ball to second his first time.

First pitch…and a fastball hit in the air to left-centerfield…that’s pretty deep…Pierre on the run with Conine…Conine on the WARNING track MAKES the catch.

Ju-u-ust enough ballpark to hold that one in as Conine got to it between the 371 and the 396 marks in front of the leftfield bleachers.

David Wright has not hit a home run in almost a month. Going back to that series in San Francisco, remember that game the Mets won one to nothing on Friday night in Trachsel’s first game, the game that increased the Mets’ winning streak to five? Well, David has not hit a home run since then.

He made a bid there. One out, nobody on, here’s Piazza who walked and scored his first time. And the first pitch, right down the middle for a strike, oh and one.

The other National League scores, the Cardinals five and the Reds nothing, they play the bottom of the fifth at Cincinnati. Chicago and Milwaukee, one-one, the last of the third. Later on, San Diego at Colorado, the Dodgers at Arizona.

Here’s the oh-one to Mike, swing and a miss at a changeup away, good pitch there by Vargas, and the count nothing and two.

In the American League, Yankees two, Orioles nothing, bottom of the fifth at the Stadium. Runs coming in the second inning on Matt Lawton’s thirteenth homer, Randy Johnson versus Rodrigo Lopez.

Red Sox lead Tampa Bay three to two, top of the fourth in St. Pete. Travis Lee, his twelfth home run.

Oh-two to Piazza…ground ball hit wide of third, cut off and BOBBLED by Lowell! And Piazza will be safe.

Well, a mistake there, I think, by Lowell, because with Piazza, a very slow runner, you know the shortstop had, Andino, pursued that aggressively would have had a better chance at making the play and throwing out Piazza, but Lowell ranged so far, that when he failed to cut it off, that cost him the play altogether. A-a-and it goes as an infield hit, REPEAT, an infield hit for Mike Piazza.

GARY: Well, Lowell we’ve seen this year just does not have much range at third base. He went a long way for that one, but he still couldn’t make the play.

HOWIE: Here’s Diaz…first-ball hitting, rips it in the air to left field, Conine turned around, recovers and makes the catch at the edge of the warning track and Piazza hustles back to first.

Now, Diaz hit it well and Conine took the great circle route, but got to it for the second out and that’ll bring up Mike Jacobs.

Other American League scores, the Indians and the White Sox no score, top of the second at Comiskey. Scott Elarton against Jon Garland. Minnesota beat Oakland ten to four, Kansas City defeated Detroit four to three, Seattle leads Toronto three to nothing, that game in the bottom of the fifth at SkyDome, Texas and the Angels in Anaheim later.

And now here’s Jacobs. First pitch on the way, another fastball, but that one inside, one and oh. It was a first-pitch fastball that Jacobs, the left-hand batter, drove up the gap in right-center against the lefthander Vargas to get Piazza all the way around from first his first time up.

Now the one-oh…there is the breaking ball, and Jacobs waves at it, tried to hold his swing but could not, and the count one and one. So again, Piazza will have to go a long way if Jacobs can drive another one to the gap. Mike is not being held on by Delgado.

One-one pitch, low and inside, ball two.

Jacobs, with that run batted in, now has 15 RBIs in 65 at-bats. That’s a good percentage, a good ratio of run-production.

Two-one pitch, that’s lifted in the air to shallow left field, Conine coming in and he’s under it now, makes the catch and that retires the side. Three putouts in the inning to Conine around an infield hit by Piazza. And at the end of four, we’re tied, two to two, on the WFAN Mets radio network.

TOP OF THE EIGHTH

GARY: And the out-of-town scoreboard…updated…

HOWIE: [slight chuckle]

GARY: …is brought to you by the New York Lottery. You can’t live the dream if you don’t play the game.

HOWIE: Pennant race, man. Fast and first.

GARY: “Next update…9:31…” [laughter]

HOWIE: Thanks, Guy.

GARY: Hamulack delivers, taken outside, two and two.

They’re still in the bottom of the seventh in Pittsburgh, and now they go to the top of the eighth. See? We are fast and first.

HOWIE: There ya go…

GARY: Houston ten, Pittsburgh six. Lance Berkman, Mike Lamb, Jason Lane with Houston home runs, Ryan Doumit hit one for the Pirates.

HOWIE: Stay tuned for the Quickie Quiz!

GARY: 3:30 AM.

HOWIE: [chuckles]

GARY: Two-two on the way, pulled foul down the right field line by Delgado, still two and two.

Meanwhile the Phillies now lead the Braves, at least they did until just this moment. Adam LaRoche has just hit a three…run…homer, and the Braves have tied up the Phillies six-six in the bottom of the seventh. LaRoche hitting that three-run bomb off of Ryan Madson.

And apparently something just came out of the stands.

TOP OF THE NINTH

GARY: Now Hernandez from the first base side of the rubber is ready. The two-two pitch…swing and a ground ball to second, might be two, but CAIRO IS COMING HOME, now he’s gonna run at Conine, who’s halfway between third and home, he runs him back toward third base and puts a tag on Conine and leaves the runners at first and second.

Well, had Cairo tried for a double play, he might have had a shot at it, but it certainly wasn’t guaranteed, and so he made sure that they cut down the lead runner, trapped Conine between third and home, ran straight at him, and without making a throw put a tag on Conine, four-unassisted on the fielder’s choice, and most importantly, left Delgado at second base and Encanarcion at first.

HOWIE: And Cairo made such a good play that he stayed close enough to Conine so that Conine had no room to try and extend the rundown and allow the runners to move up to second and third, or at least that second runner, Delgado, to go all the way to third, and so now, the Marlins lose the chance to score a run on an out.

TOP OF THE NINTH

GARY: Runners lead first and second. The three-one to Treanor is HIGH, BALL FOUR, and the bases are loaded!

So Hernandez, after getting the HUGE out against Encanarcion, walks a light hitter in Treanor and now the bases are FULL for Mike Lowell.

Lowell’s kind of been a focal point this entire game. Remember, he was supposed to start at second base tonight for the first time in his major or minor league career, but because Miguel Cabrera got hurt in the top of the first inning, he never took the field at second base, wound up at third, well, in the fourth inning, he hit a home run to tie up the game and then in the eighth inning, he had a hit-and-run single that was key in the Marlins’ rally as they went ahead four to three.

The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the eighth on Piazza’s base hit, and now the Marlins have loaded the bases against Hernandez here in the top of the ninth.

Meanwhile in Atlanta, Ryan HOWARD has just hit a grand slam off John Foster in the top of the tenth, and the Phillies now lead the Braves ten to six. The Phillies with a win would stay two games behind Houston.

So here’s Lowell, with the bases loaded and two out. He’s two for four on the night, including a home run.

Bases loaded, two out, Hernandez ready, now the pitch, and it misses the outside corner, one ball and no strikes.

Lowell three for eleven in his career against Hernandez, including a home run.

Delgado is on third, Encanarcion at second, Treanor at first. The outfield straight away against Lowell. Hernandez working from the stretch. Here’s the one-oh pitch, right down the middle for a strike. Lowell was taking all the way, and now it’s a ball and a strike to Mike Lowell.

Mike Mordecai is on deck. Of course if Mordecai gets up, it means the Marlins will have taken the lead here in the ninth.

Bases loaded, two down.

Castro sends out a sign, Hernandez ready…POPPED it up! First base side in foul ground, Jacobs over, near the stands, right at the railing…MAKES THE CATCH, and the inning is over!

Jacobs, leaning on the railing and reaching toward the front row, caught the foul pop-up from Lowell and HERNANDEZ dances out of trouble in the ninth. No runs, one hit and THREE men left, the Marlins have left twelve runners on base.

Middle of the ninth at Shea, Mets four, Marlins four on the WFAN Mets radio network.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH

GARY: We go to bottom of the ninth inning here at Shea, the Mets and Marlins tied four to four, and if things could not get more absurd for the Florida Marlins, they are now entrusting their fate to Paul Quantrill, a pitcher who has been twice designated for assignment this year. The Yankees let him go and sent him on to the Padres; the Marlins, after the Padres released him, signed him twelve days ago and he’s now making his fifth appearance for Florida.

His ERA for the Marlins? Twelve.

Ramon Castro leads off, takes a strike down the middle, nothing and one.

So the Mets are facing Quantrill in his third different uniform this year. They saw him as a Yankee, they saw him as a Padre, and now they’re seeing him as a Marlin.

Castro batting ninth in the order leading off the last of the ninth. The oh-one from Quantrill taken on the outside corner, a strike, oh and two.

And no less than the Marlins’ post-season hopes hang in the balance here.

A loss and they’re four games behind Houston with only ten games left to play.

Jose Reyes on deck and then Miguel Cairo here in the bottom of the ninth.

Quantrill’s oh-two pitch, and he misses outside, one and two.

Quantrill, up until last year, was a tremendous set-up man, with Toronto and with the Dodgers and then he went to the Yankees and things just didn’t go right for him there. And his career has certainly faded this year.

Here’s the one-two to Castro, low and inside, two balls, two strikes.

Castro batting for the first time in the game, hitting at .257, seven home runs and forty runs batted in. Mets four Marlins four, bottom of the ninth.

Quantrill walks out of the full windup, he’s a sinkerball pitcher.

Now the two-two to Castro, low and away, ball three. So after getting ahead on the count oh and two, Quantrill’s gone to a full count on Castro.

Remember Ron Villone walked Carlos Beltran leading off the eighth and that led to the Mets’ getting the tying run home.

Now Quantrill trying to avoid walking the leadoff batter in the bottom of the ninth in a four-four game.

Here’s the three-two to Castro, swing and a ground ball back to the mound, grabbed by Quantrill. He’ll make the toss to first in time, and Castro swung at ball four. That pitch was WAY off the plate and Castro took a late cut and bounced one back to the mound.

So one out and nobody on. Let’s pause for station identification on the WFAN New York Mets radio network.

Gary Cohen, Howie Rose with you from Shea Stadium in New York. Bottom of the ninth inning, Mets four, Marlins four, one out and nobody on, Jose Reyes the batter takes low and inside from Paul Quantrill and the pitch goes all the way to the backstop, one and oh.

Reyes singled back in the first, stole second and third and scored the Mets’ first run. Since then he’s tried to bunt and been thrown out and twice he’s flied to left.

Batting lefthanded against Paul Quantrill, the one-oh pitch and it’s taken HIGH and now Quantrill behind two and oh, and Quantrill aware as everybody else in the ballpark that a walk to Reyes is essentially a double.

Reyes has already stolen two tonight, has fifty-seven steals for the year.

Here’s the two-oh pitch and it’s taken for a letter-high strike, two and one.

Quantrill the fifth Florida pitcher of the night. Jason Vargas went the first six, allowed three runs, seven hits; Randy Messenger pitched a one-two-three seventh. Ron Villone faced two batters and retired neither.

Two-one to Reyes, lifted foul, off to the left, two and two.

Antonio Alfonseca gave up the game-tying hit to Piazza. That was the only baserunner HE allowed in the eighth. And then Roberto Hernandez able to hold the fort in the top of the ninth.

Two and two the count to Reyes. The outfield plays him a step or two toward left.

Now Quantrill out of the windup, the two-two to Reyes, slashed foul down the leftfield line out of play and it stays two balls and two strikes.

Aaron Heilman is up in the Mets’ bullpen. Roberto Hernandez with a difficult top of the ninth after working two innings last night. The Mets double-switched him into the game but he may not get a second inning if we go the tenth.

Two-two to Reyes…LINE DRIVE BASE HIT going into centerfield. Moving toward left-center to play it is Pierre. He BOOTS the ball! And Reyes will go to second, the throw by Pierre not nearly in time, and Reyes is at second base with the potential winning run!

Juan Pierre, who has had all sorts of problems in the outfield over the last couple of weeks for Florida, fielding a base hit to left-center, and perhaps rushing just a little against the speed of Reyes, and he booted the ball, allowing Reyes to take second base.

HOWIE: I think that’s EXACTLY what he did, try and rush getting to that ball and playing it back in to the infield. He tried to do it all at once and the end result is Reyes winds up at second base anyway. Most of Pierre’s problems have been not getting to shallow-hit flyballs, balls that have fallen in front of him. Now, Reyes in scoring position with the potential winning run.

GARY: So it’s a single to Reyes, an error on Pierre, his fourth of the year. Mark Wiley, the pitching coach, out to talk to Quantrill. Now Miguel Cairo is the batter. Would Reyes think about trying to steal third with one out…to get the Mets within a flyball of a victory? Or leave it up to Cairo, a guy who has just been awful at trying to drive in runs all year? Cairo hitting just .161 with runners in scoring position, has only FIFTEEN RBIs in 294 at-bats.

HOWIE: Yeah, steals of third base are commonplace for Jose Reyes, but particularly in this spot, at this juncture of the game, the value of the stolen base is enhanced even more by the fact that if he gets there, the Marlins have to move the infield, probably the outfield in as well.

So, for Reyes, it’s probably a high-percentage play to try to steal third base here and change the way the Marlins have to defend.

GARY: No matter what, you know the Marlins are going to go after Cairo with Beltran and Floyd to follow.

Cairo is one out of four tonight on an infield single in the third.

Mordecai is playing shortstop, he’ll keep an eye on Reyes, as Cairo steps in, the outfield plays a step toward right.

Mordecai without much RANGE at shortstop, so his keeping an eye on Reyes really creates a hole on the left side of the infield for Cairo. The closer he plays to the bag to keep Reyes close, the more room Cairo has to hit it by him.

Here’s the pitch by Quantrill…

Looping fly ball…shallow centerfield…it’s gonna FALL IN FOR A BASE HIT! Reyes around third HEADING HOME, Pierre’s throw is well too late AND THE METS WIN THE BALLGAME on a bloop single to center by Miguel Cairo chasing home Jose Reyes with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and the Mets have made it TWO STRAIGHT over the SUDDENLY CRASHING Florida Marlins, and the Mets are all out to congratulate Miguel Cairo for his game-winning hit. First pitch he saw from Paul Quantrill, and he DUNKED it into centerfield to get Reyes home with the winning run, and the Mets win it FIVE to four in the BOTTOM of the ninth inning.

One run, two hits, one error and one left, the final score tonight, the Mets five, the Marlins four. Back to talk about it in a moment on the WFAN METS! radio network.


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