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ESPN's Alex Rodriguez stumbles on a new way to spoil a potential no-hitter

Despite the silly talk of how mentioning a no-hitter on a telecast imperils it on the field, there's another way to spoil a potential no-hitter:

That’s by being so intent on telling a story that you miss the base hit breaking it up, as Alex Rodriguez did on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”

Rodriguez is a rising star and often so smooth it's easy to forget he’s still a novice as a game analyst. But his inexperience was obvious when the AstrosLance McCullers Jr. took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against the Indians on “Sunday Night Baseball.”

ESPN reporter Buster Olney, the fourth voice in a three-person booth, had just finished talking about how players on an opposing bench will talk about breaking up a no-hitter as it’s going on.

There was a pause long enough for Jason Kipnis to line a 2-2 pitch to right field for a single.

A-Rod didn’t start talking until Kipnis made contact. But rather than acknowledge it, he plowed ahead with his own insight, which was to add nothing more than to agree with what Olney said.

“That goes on all the time, Buster,” Rodriguez said. “And that's exactly right. You want to talk about it, and a lot of times...”

Maybe Rodriguez stopped in midsentence because someone shouted in his earpiece. Maybe someone grabbed his arm. Maybe he looked up and saw what was happening on the field.

In any case, he stopped cold as Kipnis rounded first, allowing play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian to finally rejoin the game, already in progress.

“There it is,” Vasgersian said. “They were talking about it in the Cleveland dugout. ... A base hit for Kipnis, the first of the night for the Indians. I suddenly think we’re going to get blamed for that.”

Not for mentioning the potential no-hitter.

The other thing? Yeah, definitely.

“Sunday Night Baseball” is set to visit Wrigley Field’s right-field bleachers this weekend for the Cubs and Giants.

ESPN management has given its new Sunday crew — with Vasgersian replacing Dan Shulman and Rodriguez in place of Aaron Boone — a vote of confidence. But clearly it still has room for improvement.

The next Indians batter in the top of the sixth after Kipnis, catcher Yan Gomes, popped the ball up. Jose Altuve and other Astros allowed it to drop to get Kipnis on an easy force play at second.

Vasgersian asked no one in particular if Altuve did that on purpose.

“That’s a good question. I'm not sure,” A-Rod said, stepping up. “Usually you would make that play if you wanted to change one fast runner for a slow runner. In this case ...”

Rodriguez again stopped in midsentence, this time seemingly uncertain whether it was preferable in this specific case.

Olney asserted without hesitation the Astros let the ball drop on purpose, but the conversation went on.

After close to a minute — with Vasgersian, Olney and Jessica Mendoza all agreeing the Astros sought to replace Kipnis (121 stolen bases coming into his eighth season) as the runner on first with Gomes (two stolen bases coming into his seventh) — Rodriguez completed his thought.

“Any time you get a chance to get a catcher to run the bases, that’s probably very good thinking by Altuve,” he said. “He definitely did that on purpose.”

But by then, it was time to move on. Had he been more on top of game situations, he would have been better able to add something to the telecast.

Having been punished by MLB for PED use and been a teammate of the MarinersRobinson Cano on the Yankees, Rodriguez was uniquely suited to shed light on Cano’s recent 80-game suspension after testing positive for a banned masking agent.

But conceding the case was “a tough one for me because I do love Robbie,” Rodriguez’s response to Vasgersian’s question about Cano sounded more like a promo for Rodriguez’s new ESPN interview series, "Pivot," than analysis.

“I do know that it will be a long road back, a tough road back,” Rodriguez said. “But I’m confident that Robinson Cano is going to come back and continue his spectacular career and I hope at the same time he can learn a great lesson and make his life even better.”

Compare that to what another former teammate of Cano’s, Mark Teixeira, said on a New York radio station.

“I love Robbie, I’m just not surprised,” Teixeria said. “I don’t really want to go too much further, but I think a lot of people are kind of saying the same thing.”

Not Rodriguez.

The drought is over: Not even the long-suffering Vegas Golden Knights fans are happier to see their team reach the Stanley Cup Final than NBC, which would have been looking to see if Winnipeg could move back to Atlanta in time for the championship series.

The Golden Knights seem to have captured the nation’s attention thus far. Perhaps part of the lure is the novelty of an expansion team advancing and part is so many people spend time in Las Vegas at some point or another.

philrosenthal@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

Alex Rodriguez joins ESPN's 'Sunday Night Baseball' as analyst »

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