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First Guessing A Second Guess, Except It Was Really A Second Guess Of A First Cause?

Confusing title, I know.

During the top of the sixth inning last night, Shawn Hill came to bat staked with a 5-0 lead. On the MASN broadcast, Don Sutton implored Hill to make an easy out and walk right back to the dugout. There was no sense for Hill to tire himself out -- or potentially injure himself -- in vain attempts to extend a presumably safe lead, Sutton reasoned. A Hall of Fame pitcher, Sutton would seem to know of what he speaks.

Hill singled. By the time the bespeckled Kevin Gregg relieved failing Florida starter Scott Olsen, Hill was standing on third base. Gregg promptly uncorked a wild pitch; Hill had a notion and make a move toward home.

Hill quickly realized it was a false move, however, as he saw the errant pelota bound back into a playable position. The Marlins added some box seats to the area behind the plate a season or two, Sutton and Bob Carpenter explained, and the installation of this seating area left Dolphin Stadium with a ridiculously small amount of foul territority behind home. Members of the Mile High Club are afforded more room. So close are these box seats to the field of play that Dolphin Stadium features the tighest net behind the plate -- so tight that foul-backs often stoink off the net and land in fair territory. And wild pitches bounce off the padded wall and return in close proximity to the catcher, making dashes for home an adventure. Imagine B.J. Kim's wild pitch-to-out play at RFK Stadium back in 2005.

So Hill knew a split-second later he was stuck and tried diving back into third base. He beat the peg of Miguel Olivo -- who never met an opportunity to gun it to a base he didn't like -- but Hill dove on past third. He extended his left arm back to the bag was too late, and he was put out. Gregg negotiated the final two outs, and while I'm probably repeating the obvious, the Nats had blown their best odds of winning the game until they actually won the game in the fourteenth inning.

Hill returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning and surrendered a two-run homer to Aaron (Effin') Boone. He finished the inning, and his night was done after 88 pitches.

Hill entrusted a 5-2 lead to his bullpen but the mainline guys, set-up man Jon Rauch and closer Chad Cordero, couldn't hold it. After Hill left the game, Sutton and Carpenter returned to the exhortation to make a mere and easy out in the top of the sixth. Was Hill's single and subsequent adventure on the basepaths, in the broader view, a mistake? Had it tired Hill out, as Sutton warned? (The television guys neither mentioned nor hinted at evidence of any injury.)

I thought it certainly possible, but a couple factors weighed against it, at least as an exclusive explanation. The first consideration was the simple fact that Hill was pitching a shutout. While there was no law dictating he must give up runs at some point in the start, there was a pretty good chance he was going to surrender something at some point. Hill's been Washington's best pitcher thus far, but it's not like he's impervious. Furthermore, a second factor, which had been cited by Carpenter and Sutton prior to the Boone homer, helped explain the homer: Hill, a groundball pitcher, had been recording many outs last night on fly balls. The announcers were certainly right about that. Of the eighteen outs Hill recorded, nine were on fly balls, as opposed to just three on grounders. (Hill also impressed with six strikeouts in his six innings.) So if you can look back for one explanation to the Boone homer (Hill tired himself out), you can just as easily look back to another (with all those fly balls, it was inevitable one was going to surpass the Teal Monster in left).

Now, I'm not claiming Sutton precisely pinpointed the top of the sixth adventure as the cause of the bottom of the sixth homer (and of Hill leaving the game after six innings), but he certainly hinted a connection. And I thought Sutton could have been right, but I also thought that was only one explanation for the Boone homer. But I also thought it was unwise to turn around and claim the analysis from Sutton -- not only a Hall of Fame pitcher but also a veteran, accomplished announcer with a focus on pitching -- was being short-sighted and failing to make a connection with point he and his partner had previously mentioned.

To be sure, Sutton never made a connection between the aberrant grounder/fly out ratio and the sixth inning homer. But Sutton was also right about Hill's sixth-inning baserunning adventure. As it turns out, Hill suffered a strained left forearm on the play, which he later called "stupid." The injury was to Hill's non-throwing arm, but he could nevertheless miss his next start, according to Manny Acta. I would expect Sutton, who reportedly has informally advised the team's pitchers during the spring on the finer points of the craft, will spend a moment or two with Hill on pitching with a lead.

(I do realize Sutton pitched in an era where offensive levels were lower -- for some of Sutton's career, much lower -- and five-run leads in the middle innings were safer.)

All of that is fine and well-considered, except it does not implicate what, by my estimation, is the most alarming part of Hill's evening. From the game story:

Hill said he experienced some fairly significant discomfort in his right forearm from the start of Friday's game, but as the game progressed he learned how to adjust.

Hill's career, of course, has been stagnated on a couple of occasions with arm problems, so this reference seems ominous. It makes me think Hill's outing would have ended after the sixth, after those 88 pitches, because Acta was no doubt aware of the discomfort and wouldn't want to chance things.

The discomfort was never mentioned on the MASN broadcast, though I'm not blaming Sutton or Carpenter for that. Hill showed no signs of discomfort on the mound, not even to eyes of a Hall of Fame pitcher. They didn't know. Concerning what they did know, Sutton was right, at least in a sense. I'm not certain simply surrendering one out of 27 (regulation) outs is a great percentage play, even if the batter will make out in any heightened percentage of plate appearances as a matter of course. But an extra inning of effective pitching is more valuable than one out is detrimental.

Yet, given Hill's discomfort, would he have pitched that extra inning?

On the other hand, Hill's "stupid" play may now have deprived the team of one start from its best starter.

So, in the long run, Sutton was eminently wise -- just not according to the rationale he stated.

* * * *

The Marlins series continues tonight, with Matt Chico aiming to to extend his winning streak to two. He pitched five-plus innings last time out against the Braves and struggled with his control but collected his first big league victory. As for the Marlins, it's a walking wounded situation down there. Nine players are on their DL; the latest casualty is Sunday's starter, Sergio Mitre, who is suffering from Al Leiter Disease, a/k/a blisters. Who did the Marlins call up to fill Mitre's roster spot? I don't really know, but Fish Stripes does, sort of.

* * * *

Speaking of MASN, it hasn't really proliferated according to the desires of the Angelosians. (And the Lernastens, too; after all, they own like a 0.0014% stake in the network, to climb by a nickel every Leap Year.) A few days ago, I mentioned Comcast hasn't placed the network(s) on its Roanoke and Harrisonburg systems. It also appears MASN hasn't made its way to the Time-Warner-controlled North Carolina Triangle area, according to the Raleigh News-Observer. (Obligatory hat-tip to the indispensable District of Baseball.)

The News-Observer article, which reads like an opinion piece (though isn't labeled as such), hits on a point I failed to mention the other day:

And it has been reported that MASN insists it be added as a primary channel, like FSN South on Time Warner's Channel 50, and not a digital-only option like Fox Soccer Channel on Channel 144.

Plainly, this is crap.

MLB did a lot of stupid stuff when it drew the television rights territories in the early 80s. It apparently (though Bud Selig would later deny it in Andrew Zimbalist's book) conferred an absolute right to the team in a region's second-most populous media market such that any future team in the most-populous (and most influential) market could exist only with the blessing of the bloated Vlaka owning the team in the lesser market. That's stupid. MLB also drew the second-city's lines so far down south as apparently to encompass all of North Carolina, even though Atlanta is the team of the South. I've never understood that, and it's at least prima facie stupid.

Worse yet, just because MLB conferred some stupid rights on a team in Baltimore apparently confers in that team's own so-called regional sports network an expectation that the RSN can lord over that region not only in the baseball industry but in the real world. I know MASN is a business, and businesses insist on a lot of selfish stuff, but it's like MASN believes it has some sort of birthright.

Why would Time-Warner want to put the so-called Mid Atlantic Sports Network on its basic tier? Why should it? I can only convey the absurdity of this via hypothetical.

Originally posted by Hypothetical Time-Warner Exec [please pardon the language]

So, Mr. MASN flak, you want us to carry your network on the basic tier. Hadn't considered that, would've thought an expanded digital tier would be sufficient, but your programming makes a convincing argument. Oh, I'm sure you're right about this. Let's see. You've got college lacrosse, lots of that. That's in tre-men-dous demand here. Oh, and ESPNews? Shit, we've been waiting for years for that! Lots of Towson sports. What the hell is Towson, a suburb of Baltimore? Wonderful. Very relevant to what we watch here. Speaking of which, Big East basketball? This is ACC Country, son. The "Anita Marks Show"? Who the fuck is Anita Marks? "John Riggins Show"? Official Network of the Baltimore Ravens? This state has its own team, dumbass. I'm certain you'll respect that this is Panthers territory. I'm not going to force Univision or Game Show Network off basic for this crapbag network. And a free word of advice: This publicity shot of Ray Knight in the yellow blazer? Looks like he's pissed himself.

Look, I'm certain it's not this simple. And I am well aware cable companies are among the most hubristic and evil on Planet Earth. But what gave MASN the right to lord over an area which, while nominally part of its purported region, is at least 200 miles away from the markets to which said network caters? Baseball fans are willing to pay to see the sport; the whole Extra Innings brouhaha is ample evidence of that. If Time-Warner were to put MASN on a pay tier, I'm sure quite a few people would buy. It's baseball.

I'm thankful for MASN. It's baseball, and it's my favorite team's baseball; it's even my estranged team's baseball. I love baseball, and I watch. I even flip to the Baltimore game during commercials. MASN even flipped the odious Jim Hunter for a real announcer, Gary Thorne. The production has hiccups and the Nats studio shows are a mess (and probably unnecessary as consituted, thought that's another post), but this is big league baseball, and I'm thankful.

However, other than the baseball, MASN provides nothing to the Triangle market, not to mention the Richmond and Hampton Roads markets. Until MASN demonstrates it will have some relevance in North Carolina (aside from baseball), I fail to see why North Carolina cable systems should capitulate to putting MASN in such a featured spot. The article mentions MASN is interested in purchasing the rights to Carolina Hurricanes games. If that's the way to do it, then go do it. Until then, accept you're digital-quality in that area and let the baseball fans watch the games.

Doing anything less, I've heard, is un-American.