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Frankly, TBS whiffs by using Thomas

For the Angels and their fans suffering a continent away in front of their television sets, Wednesday’s playoff opener against the Boston Red Sox very much was a split-squad experience in sensory overkill.

Two words that quickly sickened and tired the Angels: Josh Beckett . . . Josh Beckett . . . Josh Beckett . . . Josh Beckett.

Two words that had the same effect on viewers watching the first day of live postseason baseball coverage on TBS: “Frank TV” . . . “Frank TV” . . . “Frank TV” . . . “Frank TV.”

Those commercials about Frank Caliendo’s new TBS show also were exceedingly tiresome.

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Just as the Angels showed up at Fenway Park short-handed, with injured Gary Matthews Jr. de-activated for this series, studio host Ernie Johnson too was working down a man. That man’s name: Charles Barkley.

Given that TBS is spending a reported $45 million a year to televise Major League Baseball’s first-round playoff package through 2013, you would have thought the network would have invested more thought and research before handing a prized big-stage studio analyst’s seat to Frank Thomas, a.k.a. the Big Uneasy.

Before, during and after the Angels 4-0 loss to the Red Sox, Thomas looked and sounded more nervous than Reggie Willits, the Angels rookie thrust into the lineup to replace Matthews in center field. Thomas either had nothing to say or was unwilling to say anything meaningful for fear of offending someone he’ll be playing against next season. Either way, that’s not want you want from your clean-up hitter when you’re trying to make a first impression on a national baseball audience.

With a repertoire limited pretty much to “It could be a long night for the Angels and Beckett/Daisuke Matsuzaka/name a Boston pitcher being masterful,” Thomas soon had Johnson sounding like a lawyer interrogating a hostile witness -- or a dentist struggling to find some entertainment value in pulling teeth.

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Before the game, Johnson asked Thomas about Beckett and Angels starter John Lackey: If you had your pick and you had to face one of them, who would you not want to face?

Thomas cut right to the chase. That’s a tough one, he replied.

Johnson asked the question again. And a third time. Thomas wouldn’t give up a thing. I’m not going to tell you that now, Thomas said. If not now, when would be a better time? In October 2010, after Thomas has announced his retirement and no longer has to worry about Beckett or Lackey ever again firing a fastball in anger in his general vicinity?

(We interrupt this column for a commercial about Caliendo’s new show, “Frank TV,” coming soon to TBS! Listen! Caliendo sounds just like John Madden! If only Madden had been given that seat right next to Johnson!)

Cal Ripken Jr. is the other studio analyst for TBS, and taken on its own, that isn’t a bad choice. Ripken analyzes a baseball game the same way he played one -- in methodical, workmanlike fashion. He isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done. Occasionally, he would toss in a wrinkle of humor, such as when Johnson asked Ripken during the sixth inning how he would approach an at-bat against Beckett.

Stand really close to the plate and hope he hits me, Ripken quipped.

(We interrupt this column for another commercial about Caliendo’s new show, coming soon to TBS! How about that? Caliendo does a great impression of Al Pacino! So tune in! Maybe we’ll get to hear Thomas do an impression of a baseball analyst some time before the Angels are eliminated!)

Ted Robinson and Steve Stone were the on-sight commentators assigned to Game 1 at Fenway Park, giving viewers what they probably expected going in: a nine-inning Mellowcast. Robinson and Stone don’t get overly excited about much, which could be seen as a weakness at ESPN, but appropriate for the clinical manner by which Beckett dissected the Angels’ batting order.

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Looking ahead to Game 2 on Friday, Stone advised Angels Manager Mike Scioscia to consider moving Vladimir Guerrero, sore throwing arm and all, back to right field to make room at designated hitter for Kendry Morales or Juan Rivera.

I’ve got to believe Scioscia is going to be thinking about getting a little more thunder in the lineup, Stone said.

The same could be said for the TBS studio lineup. It’s time to place a bullpen call to Barkley.

christine.daniels@latimes.com


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