Fox may strike out with Rays, Phillies matchup

A baseball postseason that began with some potentially juicy World Series scenarios will end instead with a Philadelphia-Tampa Bay matchup that’s short on marquee value.

That’s potentially bad news for Fox, which doesn’t figure to draw especially strong numbers unless the best-of-seven series, which kicks off Wednesday night, is pushed to the limit.

Although Philly (No. 4) and Tampa-St. Petersburg (No. 13) are relatively large markets, they lack national followings, and most casual fans aren’t aware of their top players. This is the first World Series appearance for the Tampa Bay Rays and the first in 15 years for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox were among the major-market, marquee teams eliminated in the first two rounds of the playoffs, taking some of the wattage out of this year’s Fall Classic.

The Rays are a pretty good story, though, rebounding from the worst record in baseball a year ago to knock off the defending champion Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. That’s something for Fox to build on as it sells the matchup to viewers and advertisers.

Sunday’s deciding game in the best-of-seven ALCS, won 3-1 by Tampa Bay, drew a strong 13.4 million viewers on TBS, making it the most-watched regular or postseason baseball contest of 2008.

It was also the highest-rated telecast in TBS history, and the No. 2 cable telecast of 2008, bested only by ESPN’s Sept. 15 “Monday Night Football” contest between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles (18.61 million).

The Nielsen numbers were a much-needed bounty of good news after the Turner net took a beating in the press and from fans when a technical glitch — described as “router failure” — occurred during the end of the pregame show for Saturday night’s Game 6, causing a blackout of the contest’s first 20 minutes.

Perplexed fans were treated to an episode of “The Steve Harvey Show” instead.

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