Two baseball traditions finally return to the postseason on Wednesday afternoon:
(1) A Washington crowd;
(2) Bob Costas in the booth.
"Washington's had a longer wait than me," the latter said.
MLB Network will be the exclusive live broadcaster of Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Cardinals and Nationals at 1:07 p.m. ET, with Costas and Jim Kaat in the booth and Sam Ryan reporting. It represents the first Major League Baseball postseason game in Washington since the Senators (now Minnesota Twins) lost to the New York Giants in five games at the 1933 World Series, and for Costas it represents his first postseason call since he called the 2000 Yankees-Mariners American League Championship Series for NBC.
"October baseball has a certain feel to it," Costas said Tuesday during a train commute to D.C. "I'm even excited this is a day game, because obviously all the World Series games are at night. In the earlier rounds you get that October feel that reminds me of what it was like when I was young. Day games with that autumn weather, it brings back a certain baseball feeling."
There was a time for many fans when Costas was practically the voice of baseball, and his closing monologue, sort of a Shakespearean soliloquy, was the definitive signoff after a World Series was won. That was back when NBC alternated annually with FOX on World Series broadcasts, but his last one was 1999; FOX began exclusively airing that event in 2000 and just extended its contract to do the same through at least 2021.
Costas has called MLB Network "showcase games" during the course of his association with the 24/7 network over its four years, but this will be his first time working a postseason game for them. MLB Network will share some of the equipment of Turner Sports, which had prepared for every possible venue during its own Wild Card, Division Series and ALCS coverage.
"There's a great buzz here with this being the first postseason game in Washington since 1933 and MLB Network is certainly excited to be part of it," said Mark Loomis, senior vice president of production for MLB Network. "With so much history involved in this game, I can't think of two better broadcasters on the call than Bob Costas and Jim Kaat."
Kaat made his own return to the postseason Sunday for the first time in 17 years. MLB Network's increased presence was a key part of MLB's overall national TV package announced last month, so expect to find more live action there going forward.
"The TV landscape is shifting, that's obvious," Costas said. "People have to stay alert, I guess. Games are everywhere, NCAA tournament, NFL games, the NHL playoffs, games everywhere. I guess this is just part of that trend. Obviously it's also an important part of MLB Network's inventory, and the hope is people who watch these games will also become fairly familiar with what MLB Network does the rest of the time. We hope it's a synergy."
This NLDS shifts with the teams tied at a game apiece, so it is now a best-of-three set entirely at Nationals Park. Costas brings a perspective of someone who has virtually seen it all in sports, and viewers can expect to hear him use the word "tournament" a time or two when he returns to the air.
"What I plan to say in the opening is that the modern baseball postseason is a tournament, where the team with the best record more often than not winds up not winning the World Series," Costas said. "It is a tournament in which any team good enough to get in is certainly good enough to win a best-of-five or best-of-seven.
"Here we have the Cards, who finished nine back in their own division, and six back of what would be the only Wild Card until this year, and won 10 fewer than the team they're playing -- and yet they're in a best-of-three now and have an unquestioned pitching advantage in Chris Carpenter against Edwin Jackson. That's the nature of the modern postseason. One game and out even though Atlanta was six games better, and now against the Nats, a team without [Stephen] Strasburg, so things as we speak have broken right for the Cardinals.
"Everything is magnified in the postseason ... but in football it would be extremely surprising, even in the NBA, if the lesser team won three straight games from the better team. In baseball, that happens to occur all the time during the course of the season. Sometime during the course of the season, a team that finishes well under .500 will sweep a series from the team that will win the World Series. Nothing says that can't happen in October, either."
Costas, who turned 60 last March, is a St. Louisan whose roots go back to calling the St. Louis Spirits games on radio in the old American Basketball Association.
"Few people appreciate the Cardinals and the whole history of what they mean to St. Louis more than I do from living there," Costas said. "They won in '06 with the 13th-best record in baseball, even coming off a terrible September; they just got hot and won. Last year, they came in hot and won as the Wild Card. Yet if you look at the decade before that, they had several seasons in which they were better under [manager] Tony La Russa but didn't make it."
Asked whether he was disappointed that NBC did not wind up last month as part of MLB's overall national broadcast package, Costas said, "I had my fingers crossed but it didn't happen." But then again, he never imagined as a young St. Louis broadcaster that he would one day be calling Washington postseason games ... for an around-the-clock baseball channel.
"You know, the majority of things that have occurred to me, most of them I was very fortunate, I never could have anticipated," he said. "I never would have thought I'd host the Olympics, never thought I'd spend a very happy stretch at HBO, couldn't even have anticipated the existence of MLB Network. There was a time in the '80s where none of us could imagine being without baseball. In that respect, MLB Network was a godsend for me.
"This one game that is so appealing because it is the first postseason game in Washington in close to 80 years, and it is an appealing game. Not only do I get to do that, but the Studio 42 interviews, and the historic stuff we do, it is a good baseball menu for me."