The single worst play of the 2019 Orioles season happened during the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the White Sox. Machado brother-in-law Yonder Alonso grounded a ball to first baseman Renato Núñez. The Statcast expected batting average on this ball was .030. Núñez came down with a case of stone hands when fielding the ball because he is a third baseman who should maybe be a designated hitter.
That’s not what made it the worst play. What made it the worst play was that when the ball ricocheted away from Núñez, second baseman Jonathan Villar, who was in place to pick up the deflection, bobbled the ball when he went to pick it up. Then, after Villar grabbed the ball and threw to first, still with a chance to retire Alonso, Núñez dropped the throw. There could have been three separate errors charged. The scorer handed out just one, to Núñez, for failing to catch the throw.
As a watcher of a lot of baseball, I remain in disbelief that I witnessed something so absurd. Even bad baseball teams that are bad at defense are hard-pressed to do something so obviously terrible. There’s a certain level of competence at the MLB level, even with players who aren’t at their natural positions, such that you never expect three separate screw-ups on any one play. And yet... the 2019 Orioles.
This play was one of three errors committed by the Orioles in the first game of the doubleheader. Each of the three errors lead to the White Sox scoring an unearned run against starting pitcher David Hess. There was a first inning error when third baseman Hanser Alberto airmailed a throw to first on a routine grounder, and a third inning error when Hess himself made a poor throw to first after fielding a grounder.
Despite this tomfoolery, and also despite 3-17 hitting with runners in scoring position, they beat the White Sox, 5-4. Although the errors cost Hess a lot of pitches and had him out of the game before he finished the fifth inning, new Oriole Shawn Armstrong, as well as Branden Kline and Mychal Givens, combined to keep Chicago from scoring for the rest of the game.
After three innings, the Orioles trailed 4-0 in large part thanks to all of those errors. The offense then got to work. Dwight Smith Jr., serving as the first game’s doubleheader, led off with a walk. Alberto picked up an infield single to extend his hitting streak to eight games and give the O’s a prime scoring chance.
With one out, Smith stole third base, his fourth steal of the season. Sox catcher James McCann’s throw sailed into left field, letting Smith score easily and Alberto advance into scoring position. O’s catcher Pedro Severino added a single of his own, letting Alberto score on a Stevie Wilkerson grounder that erased Severino at second base. That’ll still get you an RBI.
Wilkerson stole a base of his own to get into scoring position for Richie Martin. It’s fair to say that Martin has struggled at the plate this year, and the Sox noticed, with their outfielders in shallow. Martin made them pay for it, blasting a Carlos Rodon pitch over the center fielder’s head to score the third O’s run. This indignity was what sent Rodon packing from the game after 3.2 innings where he allowed three hits on five hits and two walks. Six strikeouts did not help him much.
The O’s tied the game in the seventh inning in a little rally that started with a Trey Mancini walk. Mancini was back in the lineup after missing two games while nursing a hand contusion. Núñez added a single before Smith tied the game with a double. Though the O’s had men on second and third with none out, and though the Sox later made the curious decision to intentionally walk Joey Rickard to load the bases, they added no more runs in the inning.
It took until the eighth for the O’s to take the lead. The speedy Martin sliced a ball into the right field corner and just kept running, making it all the way around to third base for a leadoff triple. He scored on a Villar sacrifice fly, providing the O’s with their fifth, and ultimately decisive, run. Just like that, the Orioles losing streak has been snapped.
Kline, who pitched two scoreless innings to lower his big league ERA to 3.60, was the pitcher of record when the O’s scored the go-ahead run. That means he gets his first MLB win. Givens allowed only a ninth inning single as he recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.
The Orioles did not allow a home run in this game! No, I’m not joking. They also did not hit any home runs themselves. What they did do was have Villar, Núñez, Alberto, and Martin all with multi-hit games, and they did enough with these chances to win even though there was that one play where they were really, amazingly, tremendously bad.
Andrew Cashner and Ivan Nova are the scheduled starting pitchers for the nightcap of the doubleheader. The O’s can win another road series if they are able to sweep the doubleheader.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for the first game of May 1’s doubleheader?
This poll is closed
Richie Martin (double, triple, scored go-ahead run)
Branden Kline (two scoreless innings, first MLB win)
Mychal Givens (3 Ks in 5 batters for 2nd save)