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Nats, Dunn can't fight City Hall

6/5/2009

If you weren't watching the game (I was), you might have missed a key moment in Randy Johnson's 300th win, as Brian Wilson struck out Adam Dunn in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded. The pitched looked pretty low, and Dunn was fairly irate. So were Nationals broadcasters Rob Dibble and Bob Carpenter. As transcribed by Bugs & Cranks' Mark Townsend:

    Rob Dibble: Below the knees. Below our Pitch Track. And (Umpire) Tim Timmons now in line to save Randy Johnson's 300th victory.

    Bob Carpenter: Yeah ... they'll give it to Brian Wilson.

    Dibble: They have not called that strike all year. Joe Kerrigan, pitching coach for Pittsburgh, talked about it - they don't give that knee strike anymore. You can't just call strikes because a guy is going for his 300th victory.

    Carpenter: That's a ten-year veteran sitting back there. And the Nationals have just found out in the last two weeks that they can't fight City Hall.

    Dibble: Nope.

Townsend's take:

    At game speed it certainly looked like a strike to me. With the stills it looks perfectly borderline. It certainly wasn't definitively enough a ball to begin accusing an umpire of handing Johnson his coveted 300th win. If anything, the Pitch Track shows it nicked the very bottom of the zone.
    I know Dunn has a fantastic eye, but hitters also have to know the situation and not allow an umpire to make a call on them. If it's nicking the zone on Pitch Track, it's too close to take. Never once were they critical of Dunn for taking a borderline pitch, and that's something I consistently hear home broadcasters point out about their players.

Actually, Dunn does not have a "fantastic eye." He's fantastically choosy, which results in 110 to 120 walks every season -- along with 165 to 200 strikeouts. Dunn can hardly claim that if the pitch was really a strike, he'd have swung at it; he watches legitimate third strikes sail past him all the time.
Another odd thing about Dibble's and Carpenter's exchange: As Townsend notes, MASN's own Pitch Track did show the pitch brushing the strike zone. What's more, Pitchf/x shows strike three squarely within the (generic, in this case) zone, too. There simply wasn't any (good) reason for anyone in the dugout -- or for that matter, the broadcast booth -- to get worked up over a borderline pitch that was quite possibly called correctly. Not that you can blame anyone on the Nationals' side for being frustrated, as 14-38 isn't any fun.

Really, I just wanted an excuse to write about Rob Dibble. For years, I was less than a fan of his work at various networks. So you can imagine my shock, when I realized that I sort of like him in his current role with the Nationals. Yes, he's still a blowhard who believes that if you didn't play the game, you don't know anything about it. But he's got a good voice, he's quite a bit smarter than you probably think, and he's not been pulling his punches while the Nationals have become the biggest joke in the game.

Dibble was wrong about the pitch that preserved Randy Johnson's 300th win. But he's doing more right than I would have guessed.