Best: Like it or not, Sterling always on call

John Sterling sits in his booth before a John Sterling sits in his booth before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 25, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

John Sterling was leaving Yankee Stadium Wednesday, bound for Texas and another Yankees game in a 22-year streak without missing one, when I asked him to ponder the unfathomable:

What must it be like to be a local television play-by-play man such as YES' Michael Kay and have to sit out playoff games in favor of national counterparts after covering the entire regular season?

"That's terrible - terrible!'' he thundered, recalling that Harry Kalas missed calling the Phillies' World Series clincher in 1980 in an era when even local radio was shut out of the playoffs. (Kalas finally got his chance 28 years later, then died in a broadcast booth the next April.)

The Yankees have made the playoffs 15 of the past 16 years and Sterling has been at the mike for all of it - for the past five playoff runs as the sole local play-by-play voice, working every inning.

"It has nothing to do with me,'' he said, laughing, referring to the Yankees' success. "I just happen to be with the right team. I'm very lucky.''

Are fans, though?

Sterling is a polarizing personality, celebrated for his entertaining home run calls and criticized for the inaccuracy or incompleteness of his descriptions - in many cases by the same people, me included.

In an extensive interview in August 2009, he acknowledged making mistakes but made no apologies for habits such as anticipating plays before they are completed. He said he'd rather be ahead of a play than behind it.

Now it is playoff time again, and he and partner Suzyn Waldman are the sole in-game voices with an intimate knowledge of the team based on day-in, day-out observation.

Given that, Sterling has fulfilled at least one part of his role well. He generally is viewed as a classic "homer.'' And he is, if by that one means he really, really wants the Yankees to win.

But Sterling does not shy away from bluntly criticizing the team when it plays poorly, often sounding disgusted both as a Yankees supporter and a baseball purist. That came through during the Game 4 loss to the Rangers in the ALCS.

"People misunderstand my excitement, my euphoria, with being a homer,'' he said. "It's not. I get up. When something good happens, I tell it. When something bad happens, I tell it.

"Because I'm very excitable and euphoric, that doesn't mean I'm a homer. It just means I'm hopefully able to transmit excitement . . . I see everything, every pitch. Imagine that: every pitch of the season. So I get a feeling of what they are doing or not doing.''

Sterling does not discuss his age, but he is believed to be 72. He said the grind has not worn him down. He was eager for Game 6 of the ALCS and beyond.

"I guess I have enormous stamina,'' he said. "I guess I love the game so much that it's easy for me to get excited - easy! It's easy for me to show that I love what I'm doing.''

TBS truck earns a high-five

TBS was not rooting for the Rangers in Game 4 of the ALCS Tuesday. Why would it?

The network was better off with a Yankees victory that would have tied the series at 2 and ensured a long series.

But the men in the production truck couldn’t help but do a little celebrating after their sublimely timed montage of Bengie Molina highlights from the 2005 ALDS against the Yankees.

Seconds later he launched a three-run homer that could end up being the series’ pivotal moment.

“We did high-fives,’’ producer Glenn Diamond said.

“Once we got through our sequence the director who was calling the game kind of smiled at me,” he said. “I high-fived the Jeff Randolph and Scott Cockerill, our ISO producer.

“We kind of laughed. We weren’t celebrating as much as the Texas Rangers, but it was a nice moment. Then we had to get back to the game focus.”

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World Series is Bronx bargain

It is not often that Yankees tickets are a (relative) bargain, but if you are thinking of attending the World Series, they are. Relatively speaking, of course.

As of yesterday, FanSnap.com, which gathers information from a variety of secondary market sites, said the average asking price for Game 3 in the Bronx was a mere $847 (with a low of $335).

The averages for the other cities’ prospective first World Series home games were Philadelphia, $1,597, San Francisco, $1,431, and Arlington, Texas, $1,081.

Why the discrepancy? In part because there are more listings for Yankees tickets, which drives down prices, and in part because of the been-there, done-that factor for the defending champs’ fans.

Tickets to Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS were averaging a more manageable $223 for tonight and $305 for tomorrow, if necessary, as Rangers fans hoped for their first World Series berth.

ALCS rates with viewers

No one in baseball disputes the NFL’s ratings supremacy, but MLB is pleased with how the playoffs have performed so far — especially given the fact the Fox-Cablevision dispute has turned the NLCS into a rumor in much of the New York area.

Despite that, Game 4 of the National League series Wednesday averaged 9.27 million viewers, the most for an NLCS since Game 7 of the Cardinals-Mets series in 2006. Through five games the ALCS is averaging 7.6 million viewers, up 26 percent from last year and the best such figure for TBS in its four years of LCS coverage.

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