There is failure and then there is spectacular failure. On Thursday, the Orioles provided the platonic ideal of the latter. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)ASSOCIATED PRESS
Who are the Baltimore Orioles? We could answer that questions with breakdowns of each player, each contract, the farm system, the front office, the history of how they got to where they are today. Or, you could sum it up in ten seconds:
We don't have words to describe this highlight.
Just take a look. pic.twitter.com/3SvLuU9fPz
Cut4 (@Cut4) May 17, 2019
The Orioles are bad you already knew that -- but this play transcends bad. This is sublime. The potential of seeing a play like this is just as good a reason to watch baseball as a Pete Alonso moonshot or Chris Sale striking out 17 batters. Those are examples of feats that 99.99% of us would have no chance of doing, but this Orioles mishap is the folly of humanity in baseball form. Lets take a closer look, shall we?
First, the situation. Its the bottom of the seventh inning, bases loaded, and the score is 9-7 Cleveland. The Orioles are losing, but they have scored seven runs already and they only need two more to tie. Richard Bleier is on the mound, trying to keep his team in it with a strikeout or better yet, a groundball hit straight at an infielder. Jason Kipnis is at the plate with a chance to put the game out of reach. Once a fearsome hitter, Kipnis is barely hanging on these days. This season and the previous two, he has shifted to a flyball-heavy approach, leading to more home runs at the cost of his batting average. This season, the home runs havent shown up yet, and hes been one of the least dangerous hitters in baseball with a regularish lineup spot. Hes been especially tame against lefties. Bleier, a lefty and a groundball specialist, couldnt ask for a more manageable adversary.
On the first pitch, Bleier throws his sinker his main pitch and Kipnis does exactly what the Orioles are hoping for, tapping a groundball straight at second baseman Hanser Alberto, who fields the ball in the middle of the basepath. A quick 4-6-3, and theyll be out of the inning. If for some reason Alberto doesnt feel theyll get Kipnis at first, he can get the force at home. Alberto selected Option C: run toward first base with the intention of tagging the runner, then tossing to Chris Davis at first for the third out.
Perhaps Alberto needed a little variety, because the exact same scenario happened the previous inning. Just like the seventh inning, in the sixth Cleveland loaded the bases for Jason Kipnis, who hit a groundball to Alberto. In the sixth, Alberto threw to second and got the double play (allowing a run to score). In the seventh his variation on a theme likely would have worked, except Francisco Lindor, on his way to second, did what runners tend to do when a fielder is running straight at them with the ball: he stopped and started to run the other way.
Now Alberto needed to make another split-second decision, because in a moment, Kipnis would reach first. Alberto decided to throw to first, figuring, presumably, that they could get Kipnis, and then get Lindor in a rundown. Sometimes, we make decisions in life and immediately lose the ability to change course, whether through mental inertia or physical momentum. It seems Alberto was experiencing a little of both as he crashed into the runner he had been trying to tag out a moment ago, but not actually tagging that runner or throwing in time to get Kipnis.
After all that, there was still time for one more mistake. Chris Davis took a few steps toward Lindor, but those steps cost him any chance of catching the speedy Leonys Martin, who had begun the play on second base and was now racing toward home. Martin scored easily and Lindor was safe at second. The Orioles had turned an easy double play into two runs and zero outs without recording a fielding error. Carlos Santana followed that up with a double to left, and it was 13-7.
The term spectacular failure is generally deployed to mean big failure or for the more hyperbolic, simply failure. But this play is equal parts spectacle and failure, and in that, it is perfect.