ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The NFL had "Heidi." Major League Baseball now has "The Steve Harvey Show."
Because of what was termed a "router failure" at TBS headquarters in Atlanta, viewers across America were unable to see the start of last night's pivotal affair between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Media outlets and cable providers were flooded with calls demanding an explanation as viewers expecting to see the Sox and Rays fight for a trip to the World Series instead stumbled upon a sitcom.
Apparently, nobody was laughing.
Though TBS repaired the problem late in the first inning, viewers missed the first six batters of the game. By that point, Tampa Bay already had claimed a 1-0 lead courtesy of a colossal solo home run by B.J. Upton that struck the "C-ring" catwalk in left-center field.
After TBS issued an apology and fairly generic statement during the game, Turner Sports director of public relations Jeff Pomeroy briefly took questions from reporters during the sixth inning. Pomeroy said that TBS suffered a failure of both "the main router and the backup router," the latter of which exists exclusively for such instances where the primary source fails.
The TBS statement read: "Two circuit breakers in our Atlanta transmission operations tripped, causing the master router and its backup - which are necessary to transmit any incoming feed outbound - to shut down. This impacted our live feed from being distributed to any of the other networks in the Turner portfolio and caused the delay in our coverage. Both our primary and backup routers were impacted by this problem. We apologize to baseball fans for this mishap that caused a delay in our coverage."
According to Pomeroy, the failure of the routers was unprecedented and prevented TBS from broadcasting a live message of any kind, including an informational scrawl at the bottom of the screen. Pomeroy said the network had no choice but to put on taped programming.
Pomeroy said the routers failed with about five minutes remaining in the pregame show, leaving TBS with little time to act.
"It's never happened before," Pomeroy said.
Thanks to the temporary blackout, the first significant play viewers saw was a 6-4-3 double-play grounder by Evan Longoria that squelched a Tampa rally and ended the first.
Until last season TBS had not been involved in broadcasting postseason games. The network drew great criticism from fans and media last year for an assortment of issues pertaining to telecasts, ranging from the quality of announcers to technical matters.
Pomeroy said he had no knowledge of whether the TBS gaffe would allow MLB to opt out of its contract with the network.
Fans in Boston scrambled to find out how the game was progressing, including digging out radios while calling their cable and satellite providers for an explanation.
Local sports bars - packed with fans rejuvenated by Thursday's Game 5 comeback - were left at a loss.
"Everyone kind of freaked out for a little bit," said Jeff Rabe, a host at the Sports Depot in Allston, which has 70 televisions. "The phone was ringing off the hook with other sports bars asking us if we were getting the game or having the same problem."
Plan B, Rabe said, was to broadcast the radio feed over the bar's sound system. TBS, however, corrected the problem before it came to that. "We kind of kept our faith that it would come back sooner rather than later, and it did."
Fans in the Fenway were livid and had to be calmed by bartenders and waitresses, who assured them the game would go on. When it did, cheers erupted.
"It was absolutely appalling," said Adam Sarvela, 25, of Brighton, standing outside Copperfield's. "I'm sitting there waiting all day for this game, and I turn it on, and I look and see Steve Harvey? What were they doing there? It was appalling."
Noreen Morash, 23, of Boston, found heading from Cask 'n Flagon to Game On, said, "It was very frustrating, but the crowd went wild when it came back on."
At the start of the second inning, TBS broadcaster Chip Caray said, "We again apologize profusely for the technical difficulties we had back in Atlanta. You haven't missed much." A moment later, Kevin Youkilis tied the game with a homer to left.
Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Padraig Shea contributed to this report.