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When it comes to silky smooth pipes and eloquent descriptions of the game, there are few better than Jon Miller.

If you're heading to San Francisco's Pac Bell Park, bring along a headset to listen to one of the best broadcasters in the game on KNBR 680 AM.

What are Jon Miller’s fondest baseball memories? Well, there have been many memories for the San Francisco area native, who handles the play-by-play chores for the Giants on radio and ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball coverage on television.

We wanted to know Miller’s top three most memorable moments in particular as witnessed from his perch above home plate – in his own words. One of them might surprise you.

Back in 1988 when Miller was the voice of the Baltimore Orioles, the Birds began the campaign by losing their first 21 consecutive games.

“It was astounding. They finally won a game on the road and then lost the next two and then came home with a record of 1-23,” said Miller, using his silky smooth pipes and great storytelling abilities. “Some people started calling this talk show in Baltimore saying, ‘You know, I really feel bad for our guys because it seems like the whole country is making fun of them and laughing at them. And I’d just like to somehow get the message to them that we here in Baltimore are still behind them.’ So when they got several calls like that, he (the radio host) said, ‘Well, why don’t you just show up at the ballpark when they get back and tell them yourself? That might be the most effective way to do it.’”

That Monday night at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore is a night Miller will never forget.

“50,000 people showed up!” Miller explained. “There were no discount tickets and they weren’t giving away bats. They we’re giving away anything. It wasn’t even a promotional night.”

“I mean it was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever broadcast! The first pitch was in for a strike and Jay Tibbs was the pitcher, who they’d just brought up from the minor leagues, and the place went nuts like it was the World Series! Oddibe McDowell (the Rangers leadoff hitter) popped up and the place went nuts again! I mean here was this team that was down as any team has been in history and the place is just rocking!”

The Orioles went on to win the game 9-4 over Texas.

“Sometimes it’s a cliche that a crowd can help a team or help a team play better and all that kind of stuff,” Miller said. “And you’d be hard pressed to realistically say that that does happen, but it really seemed like it happened that night.”

Miller’s second most memorable moment also had a strong fan slant to it. It happened during late 1997 during his first year as the play-by-play voice of the Giants. For Miller, the opportunity to “go back home” again was extra special.

“One of my memorable pennant races growing up as a kid was the Giants-Dodgers in ‘62. I had my 11th birthday during the World Series that year, and you know, it was one of the greatest pennant races of all time,” Miller recounted. “The Giants and Dodgers both won 101 games and they had to have a playoff – best of three.”

Some 30 years later, Miller was broadcasting another classic Giants-Dodgers pennant race. In late September 1997, Los Angeles led the National League West by two games over the Giants with 11 games to play as they headed to Candlestick Park for a critical two-game series – the last between the teams for the season.

“The Giants came in with a four-game losing streak and it really seemed like they needed to sweep those two games from LA,” Miller said. “They won the first night, 2-1, very dramatically, and the next day they actually blew a 5-1 lead and they went into extra innings, and it turned into one of those incredible games that nobody would ever forget.”

With the game on the line, Giants closer Rod Beck immediately loaded the bases in the extra frames. Beck had already been on thin ice with Giants fans for blowing saves earlier in the season.

“The crowd was in an ugly mood by this time and they’re screaming obscenities at Beck and they’re screaming obscenities at (Manager) Dusty Baker and so Dusty goes out to the mound,” Miller recalled. “And Dusty says to Beck, ‘Hey, Shooter. You know what to do. Do what you’ve always done in spots like this. You’re the guy.’”

Baker’s words of wisdom proved magical as Beck got Eddie Murray to hit into a double play, then struck out Todd Zeile looking to get out of the jam.

“And now the place was delirious, you know?” Miller added.

But Beck’s reversal of fortune was just one of the plot lines on this day. Like many afternoons off Candlestick Point, the wind was whipping and preventing home runs from leaving the yard, especially to left field.

“Every time someone crushed one to left field it went no where. Eric Karros crushed one for the Dodgers and it looked like it was way out, but the wind caught it in front of the wall,” Miller said. “And now you’re thinking, ‘Well there’s a lot of ways this game can end, but it’s definitely not going to end on a home run to left I can tell you that.’”

But fate was on the Giants side on this September day. Catcher Brian Johnson, who a year earlier had helped the Padres to the 1996 National League West crown, stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning for San Francisco. Johnson had grown up in San Francisco's East Bay and attended nearby Stanford University.

“This was the game of the season,” Miller said. “They lose and they’re back to two down with nine to play and no games left against the Dodgers.”

“The first pitch to Johnson in the bottom of the 12th inning he hits it deep to left field against that wind and it beat the wind! Gone! Home run! And the Giants win! I mean the place was just delirious!”

At the top of Miller’s list for most memorable moments: Cal Ripken Jr. shattering Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played. Miller was then serving as the radio play-by-play voice for the Orioles.

To hear Miller tell it, the crowd may never have stopped cheering for Ripken when he broke Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played, had it not been for two Oriole players. It’s a moment Miller will never forget. The night of 2,131.

“It was a great night because of what the crowd did and how the crowd sort of staged an impromptu celebration with Cal and Cal had said he would not allow the game to be stopped for any celebration,” Miller recalled.

“He said he would be happy to take part in any ceremonies they wanted to do after the game but not during the game. But you know each night when the game became an official game they had unfurled a banner behind the warehouse in right field with the new total and so the crowd was cheering and Cal came out and took a bow and then the crowd just kept on cheering and it went on and on and on. Ultimately, the crowd cheered for about 22 minutes, and you know, we didn’t know it at the time but Cal was actually running a fever.”

“He was actually sick with a mild case of the flu and hadn’t slept more than two hours, if that, for more than three or four nights and so Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla went to him and said, ‘You’ve got to run a lap around the warning track and acknowledge all these people or we’re never going to get this game started!’”

“And Cal said, ‘I can’t. I’m not gonna do that.’ So he went back out again, tipped his cap and waved and now the cheers just got louder and louder and so finally then Palmeiro and Bonilla pushed him out of the dugout and started him on his way.”

“I mean, I’m surprised he did it because he said, ‘I can’t make it. I’ll never make it. I’m too exhausted to make a lap around the field.’ And they said, ‘Well, then walk around the field.’ So they finally push him out of the dugout and it was great. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, you know?”

“And the beauty of it was it just all spontaneous. The crowd decided that they were going to celebrate this milestone with Cal and because it, you know, it wasn’t like a home run record or a hits record, it wasn’t like Henry Aaron breaking the Babe’s home run record or (Mark) McGwire hitting No. 62. It was a moment the guy hits and that’s when it happens. This we all knew, barring a rainout, that it was going to happen on that date months ahead of time as long as Cal kept playing so then when he took the field at shortstop we basically knew he had the record.”

“The David Letterman Show called me that day and asked me to do a bit on the field via satellite where Letterman said, “Hey, we’re taping the show before the game, but airing the show after the game. So he said, ‘Can you give our audience a feel for what it was like when he broke the record and tell us what you’re going to say when he gets the record.’ And the hook for me was to say, ‘Alright, here we are, the Orioles take the field, and Ripken heads out to shortstop. He’s there now and that’s the record.’ It was a good joke - they had a good joke at the Ed Sullivan Theatre - but it was also very true! It felt anti-climatic!”

“It was unique – I mean right in the middle of a game! I don’t think there has been anything quite like it.”

Copyright 2002