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SNY talks fairly, quietly about Mets

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Sure, baseball gets mocked here for its glacial pace and out-sized role in Big Town media.

But this week's operatic events in Flushing were a reminder of what the fuss is about -- a sport whose melodrama unfolds daily over an insanely long season, starring a familiar cast of characters.

That includes the voices in TV and radio booths, who at times become part of the drama (more about that later) and at their best convey it as keen observers, yet not detached ones.

Consider Gary Cohen during the Mets' back-to-back, season-on-the-brink, soul-crushing Billy Wagner meltdowns against the Diamondbacks.

Wednesday night, what was telling wasn't so much his call of Carlos Beltran's game-winner. It was the subtler stuff.

Bottom of the ninth, one out, runner on first: "I would say the crowd is a lot quieter for a bottom-of-the-ninth, potential winning situation than it normally is after what transpired in the top of the inning."

Added Ron Darling: "It's like a punch in the gut, Gary, just trying to breathe."

Or bottom of the 13th, one out, runner on first: "Everybody connected with this team -- players, coaches, manager, front office, fans -- they'll stay up all night for a win right now."

Seventeen hours later, what had been a relaxed telecast featuring a visit from Ralph Kiner derailed in the face of another Wagner flameout.

This time, interestingly, the tone in the booth was less shocked, almost matter-of-fact, perhaps reflecting the numb reality that is beginning to settle in among fans and, who knows, maybe the team itself.

Cohen and Darling both wondered whether playing a day game after a night game was affecting Wagner, then Cohen noted the stunned silence in the stadium for a second consecutive bottom of the ninth.

"These are such strange times for this ballclub," he understated.

Of course, adding to the intrigue since YES launched in 2002 and SNY in 2006 is that every announcer is viewed through the prism of team-owned TV stations, especially during tough times.

So far SNY has an admirable record of objectivity, a sensitive subject at Shea since Willie Randolph's infamous shot at its camera shot selection last month.

But it's complicated. Here is GM Omar Minaya during a visit to the booth Wednesday: "All of us are together in this. I know that Ron, you care; I know that Gary, you care. I know the radio guys . We are all in this as New Yorkers, and we want this to happen."

In this together? Like I said, SNY mostly has avoided that trap. Or taken a sledgehammer to it.

During Mets-Padres Sunday, Keith Hernandez ripped the team for scheduling a charity function the night after a West Coast trip.

Hernandez has irked ownership before with his political incorrectness, but this was a direct shot at Chez Wilpon.

The next day on 1050 ESPN, Michael Kay, a veteran of the team-TV channel tightrope, weighed in. "I am amazed Keith Hernandez can keep his job," he said. "I'd be surprised if was not called on the carpet ... If I am the Wilpons and I'm watching at home I'm throwing a shoe through the set."

I have no idea about the shoe, but it's a good bet Kay accurately gauged the Wilpons' reaction.

Still, it was not worth firing, or even punishing, a Mets icon. It was Keith being Keith.

Speaking of which, Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the trade that brought him to the Mets. I recently spoke to him about the milestone, and he recalled having to publicly urge fans to return to the ballpark as the team contended late in the '84 season.

"It was like Mets fans were afraid to come out and be hurt again," he said. "They started coming out in August. We filled it up, had great crowds. It was the beginning of a love affair for a whole decade."

That love has been tested many times since, certainly this week. The drama continues ...

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