Former New York Mets pitcher Ron Darling waves to the...

Former New York Mets pitcher Ron Darling waves to the crowd at Shea Stadium before throwing out the ceremonial pitch before Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. (2006) Credit: AP

For many local baseball announcers affiliated with also-rans, the season's final weeks turn into a grim countdown of games left until October mercifully arrives.

Not so for SNY's Ron Darling, no matter how dreary the Mets' prospects are come late summer. "When I hear that, I always snicker, because it certainly is not the case for me,'' he said.

That is because Darling annually gets to work the postseason as an analyst for TBS, which Saturday night found him at Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the ALCS. "It does re-energize me,'' he said. "Am I rejuvenated? Absolutely.''

Darling said that when he considers his career as a major-league pitcher, "I never think about the successes I had in the postseason. I'm just haunted by the failures. So this is my second chance in life to be a great seventh-game pitcher, a great elimination-game pitcher. I'm an elimination announcer now.

"This is the only time, maybe other than Opening Day, where the hair on the back of my neck stands up.''

(As a Met, Darling started Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and got a no-decision; he started and lost Game 7 of the 1988 NLCS. He was 1-3 overall in seven playoff starts.)

This is the fourth consecutive year Darling has worked a Yankees series in the postseason, but most Yankees fans seem to have accepted him despite his association with the Mets.

"I think in some ways I'm seen as a New Yorker first,'' said Darling, who lives in Brooklyn. "I think the Yankees people think of me as a New Yorker. I've lived here 30 years now.''

Darling was rooting for the Yankees Friday only because it saved him a late-night flight to Detroit if the Orioles had won. Instead he watched CC Sabathia dominate the O's on TV, knowing it would mean a short trip to the Bronx to join Ernie Johnson and John Smoltz in TBS' No. 1 booth. (Cal Ripken worked with Johnson and Smoltz for the ALDS.)

"I wasn't rooting for a team; I was rooting for a destination,'' he said. "I knew if one team won, I was going to sleep in my own bed. If the other team won, someone was going to send me a car to drive me to Newark [Airport]."

Darling relished the former possibility because Friday was a respite from an itinerary that had taken him over the previous 12 days from Miami to Atlanta to San Francisco to New York to Cincinnati -- including making a red-eye out of California last Sunday with five minutes to spare.

"Wacky week,'' he said, "but good games.''

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