It was an eventful evening in baseball, featuring a walk-off home run, a near no-hitter, an October-like match-up in a tight divisional race and the final game of a sweep that all but closed the door on the Phillies' hopes of playing this postseason.
But for the crew of the Emmy Award-winning MLB Tonight, Wednesday was just another night in the daily tightrope act that brings together highlights, live game action, on-the-field interviews and analysis for as much as six hours a night. Think of it as a cross between the NFL Red Zone and Charles Barkley's Inside the NBA, happening seven nights a week on the MLB Network.
"This is like Fox NFL Sunday pregame — high-end studio — with the chaos of live baseball," said Greg Amsinger, an MLB Tonight host and one of the few on-camera personalities who isn't a former pro.
At the heart of it all is Dan Plesac, a three-time All-Star pitcher whose fastball has been compared to Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan. Plesac spent the final two years of his 18-season pitching career with the Phillies, and holds a special place in the team's history by recording the final out — a strikeout — at Veterans Stadium.
"I never had the opportunity to be his teammate, but man is he fun here," said former Boston Red Sox ace pitcher Pedro Martinez, who also serves as an MLB Tonight analyst.
Plesac has been with the MLB Network since the network's debut in 2009. Five nights a week, the 6-foot, 5-inch former hurler provides in-depth analysis, humor, and an energy to a broadcast that usually runs until 1 a.m., fueled by the 50 or so Jolly Ranchers he sucks down over his frantic three-hour shift.
"The beauty of the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. is you're flying off the seat of your pants. It's a rush," said Plesac. "If you only want to know about the Phillies, then you're going to be tuning into NBC Sports Philly. You tune into us because you want me to tell you what the hot story in the league is right now."
Here's a breakdown of how a recent night went for Plesac:
The MLB Network's main studios are in Secaucus, N.J. just a short drive away from Plesac's home in Weehawken. Plesac was born in Gary, Ind., and rooted for the Chicago White Sox growing up, but never had an opportunity to wear the black pinstripes as a player.
Plesac admits he's not the most-active participant in the show's daily production meeting, where the team goes over ideas for the night's broadcast.
While Plesac mostly sits back and listens, Amsinger and the show's third host, former Gold Glove-winning second baseman Harold Reynolds (who like Plesac has been with the MLB Network since its inception) dominate the discussion about potential segments. On this night, the opinions fly about everything from the Cy Young races to who is the best 19-year-old ever play in the major league.
As Amsinger and Plesac go back-and-forth about the Cy Young, the MLB Network, playing on a television in the room, cuts to Wednesday's Phillies game just in time to catch Nationals slugger Bryce Harper blasting a two-run home run off a pitch from Aaron Nola in the first inning of what would eventually become a 5-1 loss for Philadelphia.
"Well, he just lost the Cy Young," Reynolds said.
Following the production meeting, Plesac returns to his office, where he typically goes over the 25-page research packet that acts as a daily bible for the crew and keeps his eyes on the early edition of MLB Tonight.
On this night, the game that had his attention was a high-stakes divisional matchup between the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers. Not only is Plesac familiar with both teams, he called a handful of Brewers games for Fox Sports Wisconsin this season.
"No one cares what I have to say about hitting, so I compartmentalize what's important and what isn't for the broadcast," Plesac said. "I think this Cubs-Brewers game the hot game, but maybe it's 8-0 in the third inning and I turn it off and toss it out. You never know."
Plesac heads to the editing room to check out footage that associate producer Andrew Miller has cut for Wednesday night's broadcast featuring Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell and Atlanta Braves reliever Jonny Venters, who missed nearly six seasons following three Tommy John surgeries.
"Oh, that's nasty," Plesac says as he watches Snell's sinker make most of the Cleveland Indians' lineup look foolish. He offers a few suggestions to Miller about the side-by-side comparison he wants to offer between Venters and New York Yankees reliever Zach Britton, pats Miller on the shoulder and moves on.
"You build it, I'll sell it," Plesac jokes.
Plesac spends most of the final hour before the broadcast in his office watching highlights and going over his reference material one last time. Top moments of the night for him so far are the Brewers' decision to put in former closer Corey Knebel in the fifth inning and Snell's 19th win, placing him at the forefront of the Cy Young conversation in the American League.
But bubbling in the background is a potential no-hitter being thrown by Minnesota Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi in an otherwise-meaningless game against the New York Yankees.
"See, throw the script out. You never know what the hell's going to happen," Plesac said.
The broadcast begins in Studio 42, a sprawling set modeled after Citizens Bank Park. Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi (who joined the MLB Network in February) and Martinez join Plesac and Reynolds to open the show. Prior to going live, Martinez throws some pitches to Girardi, a former catcher who won three World Series rings playing for the Yankees.
The MLB Network has two live cameras in every ballpark for every game, one focused on home plate and another near third base. When Odorizzi's no-hitter is finally broken up in the eighth inning, the network lands a post-game interview. Using the stadium camera, Odorizzi is interviewed by the entire crew, including Plesac, who pivots from a serious question about warm-up pitches to mocking Amsinger for jinxing the no-hitter, a running gag on the show.
"Jake, do me a favor. If Greg does the 30 teams in 30 days and shows up in Fort Meyers, just punch him in the jaw, for me, please," Plesac jokes. "You can do anything once."
"These are my friends," Amsinger responds.
Neither Reynolds nor Amsinger have active Twitter accounts.
But Plesac is an avid social media junkie and monitors incoming comments during nearly every pause or commercial break. That night, Plesac was getting hammered by Cubs fans upset that, among other things, he sang the Brewers fight song during the broadcast.
"The Brewers are just a great story. If it were the Giants that had the better story, I'd be pulling out my best Kung Fu Panda," Plesac said in a nod to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
The broadcast pivots again to live coverage of the bottom of the ninth inning between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. These extended live moments are when the broadcast is at its best — with Plesac, Reynolds and Amsinger going back and forth in a way more akin to a baseball podcast than a highly produced studio show.
But the chatter is silenced when DJ LeMahieu belts a two-run walk off home run, stealing the game for the Rockies and dealing another devastating loss to the Diamondbacks, who are trying to stay in contention in the NL West.
"Just a backbreaker for the snakes," Plesac said.
Normally, the broadcast ends at 1 a.m., but with just one west coast game scheduled that night, the producers let everyone go an hour early. Plesac wasted no time shedding his suit and tie and tossing a pocket full of Jolly Rancher wrappers into the trash can of his office on the way out the door.