Reporters who fish for gracious quotes from losing managers about pitchers who just shut out their team tread on subjectively slippery ground. Right after a tough game, where is the manager coming from emotionally? Usually, it's among four "places":
• "The other guy was just better than us."
• "Our guys just weren't good enough."
• "It's just one of those days [bad luck]."
• "It's all the ump's fault."
After his team found itself on the wrong end of the formidable knuckleball of New York Mets right-hander R.A. Dickey and his second straight one-hitter, manager Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles made it easy to tell where he was coming from (via Newsday):
"It was a challenging night. Hitters are seeing things they don't normally see. Umpires are seeing things they don't normally see," Showalter said. "It was challenging for both."
Showalter praised Dickey, who had 13 strikeouts, but said of his hitters, "I think they were a little frustrated by the liberalness of some of the pitches."
So Dickey's knuckleball is for increased spending for social programs? And the Orioles lineup demands tax cuts? No, Showalter means that umpire Eric Cooper gave Dickey's fluttering pitches benefit of the doubt. Well, Brooks Baseball charts the strike zones from every game and, yes, Cooper did give perhaps eight non-strikes to Dickey. But, as Rob Neyer of SB Nation points out in his analysis of the graphs, Cooper was just as "liberal" to Orioles pitchers.
In other words, the strike zone was the strike zone for both sides. Even if Showalter was making generalities (to help himself avoid a fine from the league for complaining) in how umpires and hitters react to the knuckleball, that's no excuse for being a poor sport.
And shouldn't Showalter take Dickey's past six starts, which have all been uniformly awesome, into account? Umpiring isn't why Dickey leads the league in ERA. And if the league's umpires are so easily misled by the knuckler, then we'd have more than one pitcher taking advantage of this loophole. At least some of Showalter's players complained about the umpire and managed to say that Dickey was great. Via MLB.com:
"He's not like [Tim] Wakefield flipping it up there 60 miles an hour, this guy is throwing with some velocity on it," said Chris Davis, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. "He's got a couple of different looks, and he still throws some other pitches, too, to complement that. He's throwing anywhere from 78 to 83 miles an hour -- that's a hard knuckleball. You just got to grit your teeth and bear it."
Davis also implied that the calls were inconsistent. J.J. Hardy, who said in one breath, "What I want to say, I get fined," added that Dickey had to be "up there" with the best pitchers the O's have faced all season and, "I don't know how he can control it and throw it over the plate." That wasn't so hard!
O's right-hander Jake Arrieta just came out and spat the truth: "Personally, I think [Dickey] is the best pitcher in the game right now."
Dickey, conversely, credits Showalter with believing in his ability to use the knuckleball when few did. Showalter, not really in the mood to reminisce, begrudgingly recalled when both men worked for the Texas Rangers in 2006. He gave Dickey one start, as the No. 4 starter out of spring training, and it didn't go well. Dickey allowed six home runs and was sent back to the minors, never to appear in a game for the Rangers again.
"He didn't have an ego. He just wanted to be in a position where you could contribute to a team. He's what I call an 'eye-roller.' Every time you fight for him as the 12th pitcher on your staff, all the 'metrics' -- whatever they call all the stat guys -- would roll their eyes. 'He's fighting for Dickey again.'
There Buck goes again. He's really too magnanimous sometimes.