Great Orioles opening day victory deserved better telecast from MASN

Thorne, Palmer and Bordick deliver second-rate performace inTV booth

  • Fans react to Adam Jones' single that tied up game in eventual win for the Orioles against the Twins in the home opener.
Fans react to Adam Jones' single that tied up game in eventual… (Jerry Jackson, Baltimore…)
April 05, 2013|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

No one wants to be a downer when writing about opening day especially when the Orioles pull off a comeback victory like they did Friday over the Minnesota Twins by a score of 9-5.

But  MASN’s telecast of the home opener featuring Gary Thorne, Jim Palmer and Mike Bordick was nowhere near worthy of the play on the field by the Orioles. Someone needs to tell the boys in the booth it’s the Orioles who made the playoffs last year – not them – and it’s time for them to raise their games.

For most of the game, the trio sounded flat, vague and self-congratulatory.  Thorne was the worst – at times, dead wrong in what he was telling viewers. I was surprised that Palmer, who I have long considered one of the finest baseball analysts anywhere on television, wasn’t doing more to correct him. It’s nice to be collegial, but not at the expense of allowing mistakes to stand unchallenged.

It was particularly frustrating during the first four innings not to get more pitching insight with as unpredictable a pitcher on the mound as Orioles starter Jake Arrieta.

The most intriguing aspect of his early performance Friday was that he appeared to be throwing a cut fastball, a cutter, that slid across the plate and broke slightly down and away from right-handed batters. In the second inning, he threw one that moved like the legendary cutter of New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.  The Twins hitters could not square up on it when it moved like that. The problem: It wasn’t always moving that way.

That was the story line that needed to be explored in the booth. How long has Arrieta been throwing that pitch? I didn’t know he had a cutter. Last year, he looked like a fastball-curve-changeup pitcher to me . I have long wondered, since he didn’t  appear to have  a slider, why the Orioles didn’t try to teach him a cutter given what a live arm he has and the kind of movement he can generate on the ball. Did he try to add the cutter in spring training this year?

But the boys in the booth gave us nothing for three innings. Finally, in the fourth, Palmer remarked that one of Arrieta’s  pitches in that inning appeared to be a “cut fastball, cutter.” But then, no explanation of where it came from and what part it plays in his repertoire.

Maybe it was just a bad day by a great analyst.

When Palmer has a bad day, he tends to repeat bromides over and over until you want to scream, “I got it, Jim. I got it the 10th time.”

Friday’s bromide: Palmer insisting a pitcher has to ask himself, “What are you going to throw, and where are you going to throw it?”

Later, he stressed that to be succesful in the big leagues a pitcher has  “to make a pitch,” meaning an outstanding pitch, in the tough situations.

“That’s what pitching is all about,” he said.

But I thought, pitching was “all about making adjustments,” one of Palmer’s favorite bromides.

Maybe it’s all about both.

I am not  criticizing the concepts. Palmer is a brilliant pitching analyst, and he’s right in what he says. But when he’s not at his best, he repeats these catchphrases and overstates the importance of each as if it the secret of all baseball wisdom.

At his worst, however, Palmer is still only about 100 times better than Thorne.

In the fifth inning, Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones was thrown an inside pitch during his at bat.

“Backed him off with a fastball up and in,” Thorne told viewers.

Only the radar gun showed that the pitch was 80 mph.

Two pitches later, Jones swung and missed at a pitch that Palmer identified as  a “straight change-up.” The gun clocked that one at 82 mph.

Thorne was dead wrong about the first pitch being fastball, of course. And if he wasn’t willing to correct himself when he saw what the gun showed, Palmer or Bordick should have.

When I say the crew was sloppy and unfocused, I’m thinking particularly of Thorne in the second inning talking about red-hot Orioles first baseman Chris Davis breaking two bats in Tampa Thursday night near the end of the game.

“It’s either Wonderboy or Wonderbat,” Thorne said of the bat Davis broke, acting like he knew what he was talking about. “Either one of those is the name of the bat.”

What Thorne was butchering with his lack of knowledge and precision was a brilliant quote from Orioles manager Buck Showalter Thursday night in Tampa.

“They broke Wonderboy in that last at-bat,” Showalter said with a perfectly apt and exquisitely wry reference to the magical bat used by Roy Hobbs in Bernard Malamud’s epic baseball novel, “The Natural.”

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