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Pitch, and switch, thrown

Sox game a big HD moment

It was 40 years ago, at a time when color TV sets were a rarity and "cable TV" wasn't even in our lexicon. At Melrose High School, we had a terrific physics teacher named Mr. Gilchrist, a man who treasured teaching his subject and bringing some science into the lives of those of us who struggled to do rudimentary calculations on a slide rule.

One day he told us about a technology that existed in the laboratory for high-definition television and said we would live long enough to see it.

For New Englanders, that time has arrived. When NESN threw the switch and last night's Red Sox-Devil Rays game went on the air in high definition, it marked a watershed moment in the way we watch television.

Well . . . at least for most people. The Comcast folks say virtually all HD customers in New England got to see the Sox-Devil Rays in high definition. Not me. My screen said, "One moment please . . . This channel should be available shortly."

My TV set notwithstanding, last night marked an end to the Alphonse & Gaston tap dance between those who produce HD programming and the manufacturers of HD-compatible sets. The new medium has the necessary momentum and both sides are fully committed to the technology.

NESN plans to broadcast all Red Sox and Bruins home games in the format and add road games depending on arena wiring and mobile truck availability.

For Comcast's steadily growing number of HD subscribers, tuning to the 800 tier on the cable box is becoming a habit with now NESN, ESPN, ABC, NBC, Fox, HBO, PBS, Showtime, and INHD and INHD2 available. The HD phenomenon is such that Comcast is adding customers at nearly the maximum pace without any marketing push.

For consumers, the good news is that the only charge is an additional $2 per month over digital cable, and that's for the HD receiver, not the programming.

The other good news is that Fox, which hasn't been pushing its wide-screen initiative after doing the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl in the format, popped up on the Comcast HD tier yesterday without any fanfare. Fox broadcasts its top two NFL games in wide-screen (its HD format) each week. Of equal interest these days is Fox's plans for postseason baseball in wide-screen (yet to be decided). That leaves CBS (Channel 4) as the major missing piece in the Boston HD market.

Meanwhile, they say seeing is believing. And I'm still waiting . . ..

Late late show Sunday's Patriots-Eagles game ran until 7:45 p.m., pushing Channel 4's evening lineup back so far that the 11 p.m. news started at 12:20 a.m. and "Sports Final" at 12:45, meaning most viewers, even those who set the VCR for midnight, missed a heartfelt tribute to Ron Burton. WBCN's Patriots broadcasters, Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti, paid moving tribute to Burton, one of the original Patriots, before, during, and after the game. "Sometimes you get so close to greatness that you take it for granted," said Cappelletti . . . The Eagles didn't produce many highlights against the Patriots Sunday, but CBS caught one for a replay: Duce Staley extending the ball over the goal line as he was buried under a pile of Patriots. CBS also caught the Philly fans on video (yawning), audio (loud booing), and in absentia (as a plague of empty seats spread through Lincoln Financial Field in the second half) . . . You had to be watching intently to figure out what happened on the play when Tom Brady was hit and tight end Daniel Graham picked off the wounded duck of a loose ball in the air for a reception. It left CBS's Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms confused about whether it was a fumble or pass, and the replay didn't clarify it . . . Patriots vice chairman Jonathan Kraft, on the pregame show, updated the weather for fans with a financial interest in the game: "It was pouring but now is sunny for you who will be making last-minute phone calls." . . . DirecTV's ads with Lawrence Fishburne and John Goodman doing dramatic readings of letters from satisfied subscribers are clever -- at least the first time around . . . The pregame shows pretty much had written off the Patriots following their opening-game debacle in Buffalo. ESPN's Chris Berman, Michael Irvin, and Tom Jackson all picked the Eagles to win Sunday, with only Rush Limbaugh taking the Patriots. Tom Jackson's comment that "the Patriots hate their coach, they have to do it for themselves," got a lot of notice. Not so Limbaugh's "They should have been inspired by the Belichick-Milloy situation. The onus is on the players. Aren't these the guys who were introduced as a team?" . . . CBS's crew didn't include Patriots-Eagles among the four games they picked; however, Boomer Esiason predicted that Brady would be "the player of the day" in the league.

Place for a legend Bobby Orr is a special guest on tomorrow's "Sports Pulse" show to be taped at The Place at 6 p.m. NESN will air the show following the 7 p.m. Devil Rays-Red Sox game and postgame "Extra Innings." Orr will join the Globe's Bob Ryan and Michael Smith and host Bob Lobel to discuss the Sept. 28 "4th Annual Celebrity Hat Trick" to benefit The Leary Firefighters Foundation. Tickets for the 3 p.m. event are $25 and $50 and are available via www.ticketmaster.com. . . . Next Sunday is another NFL doubleheader week for CBS. Locally, we'll start with Jets-Patriots (Channel 4, 1 p.m.) and follow with Browns-49ers at 4:15. Fox brings in Giants-Redskins (Channel 25, 4 p.m.), which will be broadcast in Fox's wide-screen format. ESPN's "Sunday Night Football" has an early-season AFC East showdown between the Bills and Dolphins . . . Boston College-Miami in prime time headlines Saturday's college football lineup (ESPN, 7:45 p.m.). The game also will be on ESPN HD. Channel 5 has Central Florida at Syracuse at noon, followed by UCLA-Oklahoma at 3:30. Michigan beat up on Notre Dame last weekend; this Saturday the Irish try to get untracked at home against Michigan State (Channel 7, 2:30 p.m.).You make the call The Sam Adams folks have the final round of their second Announcer for an Inning contest tonight, starting at 7 at the Cask 'n' Flagon on Brookline Avenue. The winner will call the seventh inning of next Tuesday night's game against the Orioles alongside NESN analyst Jerry Remy. Whoever wins won't be as annoying as the steady parade of pols and poohbahs who invade the TV booth . . . "Curse of the Bambino" is on HBO tonight at 10 if you're into tormenting yourself with the low points of Sox history. Fortunately, the young'uns of Red Sox Nation will be (or should be) in bed by that hour . . . Channel 7's Wendi Nix had nice one-on-ones with David Ortiz and Kevin Millar on Sunday's "Sports Xtra." The two made it clear they were enjoying the stretch run. "It's going to go down to the last week," said Millar. "You can be sure Oakland and Seattle are having the same meetings in their clubhouses that we are." . . . HBO will rebroadcast the Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya bout this Saturday at 9:45 p.m. . . . Kevin Winter, one of the gone-but-not-yet-forgotten WWZN morning cast, is joining Norm Resha and Rick Stein for a Providence version of "Calling All Sports" to be heard Saturdays on 790 AM The Score from 4 (or after Brown football) to 7 p.m. . . . NBC analyst Johnny Miller was named the most influential TV person in golf (and No. 16 overall) in a feature in the current Golf Digest . . . The INHD and INHD2 channels that launched yesterday will give many of us the chance to see programming produced by The Tennis Channel and College Sports TV . . . Another piece of the future -- placing advertising on the playing field -- was seen Saturday when CBS superimposed the AOL "Running Man" logo on the "1st & 10" line . . . NESN is auctioning (for the Jimmy Fund) both a Sox jersey and ball autographed by all players who have appeared on "Extra Innings." You can get in on the action at www.boston.com/nesn, with the winner announced on Thursday's postgame Sox show.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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