It was 6:30 a.m. when the alarm on the clock on Russ Langer’s nightstand went off Saturday. It went off a half-hour earlier than usual. On a normal day, Langer rises at 7.
Langer, the longtime play-by-play voice of the 51s — and the shorter-time play-by-play voice of the UNLV football team — knew this wasn’t going to be a normal day. He had known this since late Friday, when Las Vegas relief pitcher Cory Wade kept wriggling out of jams and predicaments as if he were Daniel Craig in “Skyfall.”
The 51s hung on for a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the best-of-5 Pacific Coast League Conference Championship Series against Salt Lake, and that meant there would be a Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.
There also would be a Game 2 of the college football season, Arizona vs. UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium, on Saturday night.
And that meant Russ Langer might be needing a throat lozenge.
Langer would be calling a baseball game and a football game on the same day, something he had never done. Not with Single-A Springfield, not with Double-A Midland, not with Triple-A Phoenix or Albuquerque. Not even when he pinch hit and called 30 games for the defunct Montreal Expos in 2003 and 2004, because the Alouettes of the Canadian Football League had their own play-by-play guy.
This is why Langer made sure he packed the Halls Plus cough drops with the soothing syrup honey-flavored centers into his tan briefcase before leaving for the ballpark.
“I haven’t used them yet,” he said about 10 minutes before he went on the air for Game 148 of the minor league baseball season. “I’ve got a bag of ’em, just in case.”
Suffice it to say that Langer got to bed early Friday night, and that he tried to limit conversation to a friendly nod or a wave and as few words as possible, because laryngitis is not an option when you have nine innings with Wally Backman on Saturday afternoon, and four quarters with Bobby Hauck at night.
This was no ordinary doubleheader.
After hulking Aaron Harang — he of the 110 big league pitching wins, 6-foot-7-inch frame and 260 (or so) pounds — got the Bees out in the top of the first, Langer stretched his vocal cords for the first time when center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis led off the home first by belting a pitch from Billy Buckner (not that Billy Buckner) off the light standard in right field.
Game 4 ebbed and flowed, just as Games 1, 2, and 3 had ebbed and flowed, and it was close, and so you could hear the edge in Langer’s descriptions and accounts of the game — and the angst — over the press box feed as the Bees and 51s battled to the wire again.
The 51s had the tying run at third with two outs in the ninth, and they had Nieuwenhuis up there again, and 51s fans were on their feet again. And though there weren’t a lot of them, that was OK, Langer said, because these were fans who had come for the baseball, and not for a glow-in-the-dark blender with the team logo emblazoned on the side.
Maybe it wasn’t Ralph Branca vs. Bobby Thomson in ’51, but Daniel Stange vs. Kirk Nieuwenhuis still had a palpable sense of drama to it, because Stange throws 96 mph heat, and Nieuwenhuis is capable of hitting a high, hard one off a light standard.
Stange threw three high, hard ones — foul, swinging strike, foul — and then he threw a fourth, and then Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ batting helmet was bouncing toward third base and padding was flying out, that’s how hard he had slammed it to the hardened dirt around home plate with both hands.
So instead of shouting “The 51s extend the series! The 51s extend the series! The 51s extend the series!” like that other guy named Russ (Hodges) might have done it had Nieuwenhuis hit another one off the light standard, the Russ named Langer just read the totals: 4, 9 and 1 for Salt Lake, 3, 7 and 1 for Las Vegas. And then a guy in a Mariners T-shirt got his attention from the box seats below, and another in a red checkered shirt did the same.
The guy in the checkered shirt pointed at Langer and tapped his chest. Russ pointed and tapped his chest in return, because you could tell the guy in the checkered shirt had come for the baseball and not the glow-in-the-dark blender.
For 51s fans, it was wait till next year. For Russ Langer, it was wait about 4½ hours. It was 3:06 when Nieuwenhuis struck out, 7:42 when Langer told his football listeners that UNLV would receive the opening kickoff. He also said he needed a Red Bull.
After another 120 plays or so the football would be over, and there wouldn’t be another ballgame Sunday. And though that surely must have saddened Russ Langer, for he is a baseball man through and through, you couldn’t hear it in his voice.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.