December 11, 2023

Bob Costas thinks there’s still hope for the Dodgers, down two games to none in the best-of-three National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That’s if starting pitcher Lance Lynn can hold his own Wednesday night for the Dodgers in Game 3 in Phoenix.

And if Clayton Kershaw can return to form in Game 4 after a disastrous outing to open the series.

And if the Dodgers can somehow force a Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.

“Those are all a whole bunch of ifs, aren’t they?” Costas, 71, laughed during a phone interview with The Times on Wednesday afternoon, hours before he handled the play-by-play duties for TBS’ NLDS broadcast of Game 3.

But, Dodgers fans, he’s saying there’s a chance. That’s got to count for something coming from a veteran announcer who has called three World Series, seven league championship series and countless other games during a 50-year career in broadcasting.

During his chat with The Times, Costas had plenty to say about the Dodgers-Diamondbacks series he’s been covering with color analyst Ron Darling. He also discussed Major League Baseball’s much-criticized playoff format (and offered a pretty intriguing way to fix it), the criticism he receives on social media, and a life-saving act he recently performed that he wishes the general public had never learned about.

The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Schilken: Since you’ve been calling the Dodgers-Diamondbacks series on TV, people might want to know your thoughts going into Game 3, especially with the Dodgers in a win-or-go-home situation they probably weren’t expecting to be in.

Costas: Yeah, well, it’s pretty obvious that the Dodgers are not the team that they would be at full strength, with all the injuries to their pitching staff all year long. And then Clayton Kershaw, who says he feels fine, has an unfortunate outing in Game 1. Two games in baseball don’t prove much, except when they happen in October and then it’s glaring. But Mookie [Betts] and Freddie Freeman, the two best players, are a combined One for 13. The two starters for the Dodgers have given up nine runs in the first inning combined. And the two starters for the D-backs thus far have pitched 11 or 12 innings and given up only two runs combined. So, you know, that’s not brain surgery to figure out what happens in those circumstances. …

But the Dodgers won five straight games from the D-backs in August. Lance Lynn is not going to be fazed by circumstances. He’s a veteran pitcher, he’s pitched in the postseason many times. If they can get a decent outing from Lance Lynn and their bullpen, which has been consistently good, they can win tonight. And then you have to hope that Kershaw flips the script tomorrow night, and then they get back to Los Angeles and who knows what can happen [in] one game? [laughs] Those are all a whole bunch of if’s, aren’t they?

Schilken: Starting pitching has been a concern all season, and these playoffs have been a worst case scenario. But what about the hitting, particularly Mookie and Freddie? Do you think they can pull out of their postseason slumps in time to make a difference?

Costas: In baseball, a guy can pull out of it in one game. A guy can win the batting title and he can have two games in the middle of the season where he goes 0 for 8. That’s just the nature of baseball. And a guy can wind up batting .220 and have two games back-to-back where he goes six for eight. So I’m not drawing any overarching conclusions from what happened the first couple of games. But the math here is obvious — the Dodgers have to get going or else they’ll have all offseason long to think about what happened.

Schilken: Do you have a prediction? Will the Dodgers pull it off?

Costas: Predictions in baseball are folly, just folly. Any team can beat any other team on a given night in baseball, and any team good enough to make the playoffs can win a series from any other team in baseball. And now that the playoffs have been expanded to include 12 total teams, it’s a gauntlet to run. There’s no guarantee that the best teams will make it all the way to the World Series.

Schilken: What are your thoughts on the playoff format? Some people have been complaining about the length of the layoff for the teams who don’t play in the wild-card round. Do you think that has had any affect on the Dodgers or any of the other teams?

Costas: It’s possible, but on the other hand, no manager would say I’d rather play a crapshoot wild card two-out-of-three than sit around waiting for the outcome of that. You’d always rather have the bye into the next round. It’s too complicated to talk about here at any length, but there are a number of suggestions about how to tweak this format to make it fairer.

You don’t want to guarantee anything, but I think if the division series was a best of seven that would be a more legitimate test. But the way to accomplish that so that the World Series doesn’t go into Thanksgiving is to change the wild-card format a little bit. You could have the second and third wild cards play a one-game head-to-head on Monday night right after the season ends, while the best wild card — which is often the second-best team in the league, like the Dodgers a couple years ago when they won 106 [games] — you could have that team not have to play that first game.

So the winner of that game, on the home field of the better of the two, goes to the home field of the best wild card. So the best wild card just has to win one game to get to the division series, whereas the other two have to win two games to get to the division series. And the third division winner doesn’t get thrown in with the wild cards. You win your division, even if it’s the lesser of the three divisions, you should be exempt from the wild-card series. So if you did it that way — you play the one game on Monday night, the next game on Tuesday night — by Thursday night you’re playing the division series. And then the division series could be the best of seven. It’s just a more legitimate test. …

You could have a perfect format and crazy things could happen in any given series. But if you’re talking about fixing this format a little bit, then I think what I just suggested might be helpful.

Schilken: I think you solved it!

Costas: No charge if they want to institute it.

Schilken: So I gotta ask about the New York Post’s Page Six story about you saving a friend’s life with the Heimlich maneuver at a restaurant recently.

Costas: Here’s all I have to say about it. I’m glad I was able to help my friend. I’m not glad we live in a world where some stranger, some dope in the restaurant thinks it’s a fine idea to pass this on to a gossip site. And then it winds up everywhere. I would just assume that the only people that knew about it were my friend, his wife and the people that we might have jokingly told about it. I wasn’t looking for any attention.

Schilken: But still it’s a good, positive story.

Costas: Yeah, it’s a positive story, but also where did the story originate? Gossip sites. But I’m glad my pal is still breathing — there’s your positive.

Schilken: I’m sure he thinks so too.

Costas: [laughs] Yeah! The funny thing about it is, 30 seconds later he’s perfectly fine. We just resumed having dinner and laughed about it. But it wouldn’t have been so funny, I guess, if the steak had stayed stuck in his throat.

Schilken: And you’ve said you hadn’t been trained in the Heimlich at all, right?

Costas: No, no. I had never done it before, but I kinda knew what it was ’cause those posters are in restaurants and stuff and you’ve seen it on television. I just approximated it the best I could and luckily it worked out.

Schilken: So going back to the NLDS, I’m sure you see people talking on social media. Dodgers fans think you hate the Dodgers, Diamondbacks fans think you hate the Diamondbacks.

Costas: I think it’s at a point where it’s almost amusing. And it never comes from someone who’s not a fan of either team. So fans of the two teams hear the exact same words and interpret them as being insufficiently positive or too negative toward their own team. [laughs] It’s the exact same broadcast. It’s not unique to me — it happens to every network broadcaster. So really it has no effect on how I call the game.

Schilken: Are you enjoying the series?

Costas: Yeah! I enjoy being around baseball, I enjoy being around baseball people. I don’t do nearly as much as I once did, and that’s by design. But a little bit of baseball is something that I very much enjoy doing.

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