For the Mets, the Buck starts here

Buck Showalter

Can the smart, well-prepared, clubhouse-cohesive Showalter proved he’s learned from his most egregious mistake?

All fairness: I want to give both the Mets and Buck Showalter the benefit fo the doubt. The Mets, because they did go through a deep enough hunt before making him the 24th manager in their history. Showalter, because you don’t get to manage two decades’ worth of major league baseball without doing more than just something right.

Even if you did something so egregiously wrong once upon a time that it would stain an otherwise solid reputation for smarts, preparation, cohesion, and long-haul steadiness. Four things the Mets need abundantly and Showalter has proven he provides well enough that one terrible mistake really shouldn’t mark your entire career.

But oh, what a mistake it was. And heaven help the Mets and their new skipper if he and they should find themselves facing a comparable scenario when they arrive at the postseason and he makes the same mistake. Will George Satayana prove a baseball prophet, too?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Satayana wrote immortally in The Life of Reason. Baseball sometimes tries but always fails to forget the past. That can be good and bad, of course. And you’ll have little trouble finding people who’d like to forget the 2016 American League wild card game.

Let’s first put the Big One into proper perspective. It didn’t cost Showalter’s Orioles a World Series. But it cost them a chance to get into a division series from which they might, maybe, have begun a postseason journey there.

Leaving both his and baseball’s best relief pitcher in the pen while a lesser arm surrendered an eleventh-inning, wild card-losing three-run homer has left Showalter second-guessed at least as often as Gene Mauch was over the 1964 Phillies’ pennant race collapse.

That relief pitcher, Zack Britton, holds no grudge. Now with the Yankees, but facing a 2022 season away from the game while he rehabs from elbow reconstruction surgery, Britton doesn’t flinch. Ask him if he’d play for Showalter again given the chance, as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal has, and his answer is an emphatic yes. One hundred percent, Britton began.

Showalter knew he’d blown it. And when he reconvened his Orioles during spring training 2017, he let them know it, Britton says.

We always had this spring training thing, which I thought was cool — off-site, get together in a movie theater, kind of show you the highlights of the previous season, just a bonding moment for the team. During that meeting, he got up there and said, ‘Before we start, I just want to address the elephant in the room.’ He apologized to me, which I didn’t think he needed to do. I think there were some guys on the team that were frustrated by the move. He just said: ‘That’s my bad. I messed up.’ And it was done with.

But was it, really?

Britton told Rosenthal Showalter “had his reasons. I’m not 100 percent sure why, but it didn’t matter. I always knew Buck was thinking through it. He always had a plan. Maybe it didn’t go according to his plan, and then it kind of backfired. But he was willing to take that risk, sticking with the plan.”

That’s the thing, though. Often enough, things happen enough that The Plan needs to be set to one side in the moment. “I don’t know his exact reasoning,” Britton admits. “But I truly think he was trying to do right by me and not hurt me. I’m going to be honest: I don’t think he thought we were going to score. And he didn’t want me to have to go out there for two or three innings.”

That game was tied at two in the bottom of the eleventh when Edwin Encarnacion checked in against Ubaldo Jimenez, a starter pressed into relief after Brian Duensing opened the inning by striking Ezequiel Carrera out. Jimenez surrendered a 1-1 base hit to Devon Travis and a first-pitch single to Josh Donaldson.

Jimenez may have been lucky that Donaldson—proud possessor of 37 regular-season home runs that year—hadn’t ended the game with something longer than a single to set up first and second. And Showalter in the moment didn’t think an 89 game-winning team that hit .256 on the regular season could put even one more run across the plate?

Both teams drained their bullpens by the time Jimenez and Encarnacion squared off. Except that Showalter still had Britton to call upon. The Jays already burned their closer Roberto Osuna, and Francisco Liriano wasn’t likely to stay in the game should the Orioles get it to the top of the twelfth. Everything favoured the Orioles.

Or would have, if Showalter brought Britton in. Now, of course this is baseball, where anything can happen—and usually does. There was always the outside chance that Britton could get tagged, too. But what’s another old saying? Oh, yes: If you’re going to go down, at least go down while you gave yourself the absolute best possible chance to survive and then triumph.

Whole book chapters have been written about the save rule wreaking more havoc then health. Showalter holding Britton because he wouldn’t be coming into a “save situation” can be found there. Possibly Exhibit A; at least, among the top three. Because that game needed to be “saved” right then and there for the Orioles to get one more chance at minimum to win.

So Jimenez stayed in the game. This time, neither he nor the Orioles escaped. Encarnacion hit the first pitch about ten tons into the second deck in left and sent the Jays to the division series.

Now, I’m going to give Showalter all credit on earth for manning up and apologising to his team during that spring movie house confab. Just the way Mauch deserves all credit for holding his team back on the plane, landing home following the end of that ’64 Phillie Phlop, a crowd awaiting them, and telling the players he’d step off the plane first: “You didn’t blow the pennant. I did.”

Just the way Tommy Lasorda—who only thought it was safe to let Tom Niedenfeuer pitch to Jack Clark with first base open and the Dodgers an out away from forcing a seventh 1985 National League Championship Series game—apologised to his players in the clubhouse after Clark’s three-run homer carried what proved a Cardinal pennant to the rear of the left field bleachers.

The New York Post‘s Steve Serby gave Showalter a chance to explain the whole thing in a 2020 interview. “You just have to wear some things,” Showalter replied, “and I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that.”

Well, now. I’ve written before but it bears repeating. The Britton non-decision being one of baseball’s most often second-guessed, I suspect people would love to hear about the ten things that stopped Showalter from reaching to baseball’s best 2016 reliever in his bullpen other than it not having been a by-the-book “save situation.”

Rosenthal himself, a colleague of Showalter’s at MLB Network, says Showalter “has never explained the full reasoning behind his decision. But he viewed his apology the following spring as an important step in holding the team together.”

Showalter’s strengths have always including holding teams together despite periodic moments that could have driven wedges enough into them. He’s been known to handle the aftermath of bench-clearing brawls by reminding his players—without singling any one out by name—that if you’re going to fight, do it for the right reason, not just because your ego got bruised a few moments.

“[T]here’s nothing worse than supporting something you know is wrong,” Showalter said of one such Oriole incident. “That tears a club up. It’s: ‘Your actions reflect on everyone. Let’s make sure we’re fighting for a just cause’.”

Let’s assume the Mets asked Showalter about the Britton non-decision while they interviewed him for his new job. Let’s assume Showalter went back, broke it all down, reassembled it, all to the Mets’ satisfaction, and that was that.

Put the positives together and the Mets now have a manager who knows how to keep clubhouses from dissembling, who plans well, who isn’t a martinet but whose insistence on accountability doesn’t stop with his players or even with himself. His former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has spoken of Showalter insisting on acountability from above as well as from under his command.

This is the guy who preferred to walk away from the Yankees rather than let George Steinbrenner fire his hitting coach Rick Down after the Yankees lost a tough division series to the Mariners. A man who won’t suffer The Boss’s impulses without a fight should have no trouble with Steve Cohen, the Mets’ owner whose fan friendliness often betrays tendencies that remind too many of some of Steinbrenner’s, shall we say, crazier ones.

Let Cohen rip his players in public aboard social media? Showalter might have something to say about that. He won’t quite wire himself into Cohen’s electric chair by doing so, but he won’t handle player mistakes or shortfalls quietly only to let the owner make it public and above and beyond reality, either.

He’ll have a team full of sharp veterans and maturing youth on his hands. Assuming Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer can stay healthy, he’ll have a top two in his starting rotation to die for even if Max the Knife begins showing his age at last. He isn’t likely to let his players get themselves trapped into surrealistic nonsense or unrealistic distractions.

Just be very wary if and when Showalter brings his Mets back to the postseason, if and when their postseason advancement depends on whether he reaches for his absolute best pitching option regardless of The Plan or The Role because the immediate moment demands it.

Pray that, this time, Showalter seizes the moment to give the Mets their absolute best chance to survive and/or triumph, Plan be damned. Sending him a copy of The Life of Reason might not hurt, either.

What the Mets should ask if they want Showalter managing

Buck Showalter

Showalter still has some splainin’ to do over Zack Britton’s absence when the 2016 AL wild card game was squarely on the line . . .

If you want to keep your minds off the lockout for awhile, you can find plenty of issues with which to do that. One coming to mind almost at once is New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro waxing, as his column’s headline said Friday, on why the Mets should hire Buck Showalter as their next manager.

“The truth is,” Vaccaro wrote, “the team [new general manager Billy] Eppler and [owner Steve] Cohen have already cobbled together — and the one that seems destined to emerge from the lockout — is a team custom-designed for Showalter’s particular talents.”

There will be plenty of veterans, and Showalter likes having vets he can trust in his clubhouse. There will be plenty of intriguing players of younger vintage—think Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo—whose experiences as major leaguers have largely been shaped by the stone hands of [former manager] Mickey Callaway and the inexperienced ones of [former manager Luis] Rojas . . .

But Showalter’s teams, in addition to almost always being of a superior collective baseball IQ, also take care of their business properly . . . The Mets, under Showalter, would be a Showalter team. That may mean they’re a couple of degrees less flamboyant, maybe a few layers less fun-loving . . .

So far, so good. And Showalter’s supporters include his former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who acknowledged Showalter still has to go through “the process,” meaning proper vetting. “[F]olks don’t have any idea of the real impact he can make on a ball club,” Jones tweeted Friday. “And I’m not just talking players. The Franchise. He made everyone better and accountable!”

How about Showalter making Showalter himself accountable? Say, for not making the move he should have made in the bottom of the eleventh of the 2016 wild card game? Vaccaro’s Post colleague Steve Serby tried in a September 2020 interview. And Showalter failed.

“Your Orioles controversy in [that game] when you didn’t call on Zack Britton and lost in the bottom of the eleventh in Toronto,” Serby presented. “You just have to wear some things, and I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that,” Showalter replied.

The obvious followup—In fact, Buck, people would love to hear about the ten things that stopped you from bringing in your best relief pitcher, who also happened to be the best reliever in baseball that season, despite there not being a quote save situation, unquote, despite the Blue Jays with first and third and one out in a tie ballgame—didn’t come from Serby’s mouth.

Showalter stayed with Ubaldo Jimenez, normally a starter, but working in relief of Brian Dueseng, after Dueseng opened the inning with a strikeout . . . and despite Jimenez’s prompt surrender of a pair of base hits on four pitches. And Edwin Encarnacion hit Jimenez’s first pitch to him for a three-run homer.

It wasn’t as though Showalter didn’t have a very recent precedent by which to go. Just two years earlier, then-Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made the same mistake—with his Cardinals one game from elimination, Matheny left his best relief option, Trevor Rosenthal, in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game . . . because that, too, wasn’t a quote save situation unquote.

The Giants then had first and second and also one out. Matheny left in Michael Wacha, still rusty from late-season injury idling. And Travis Ishikawa hit Wacha’s second pitch to him for a three-run homer. Showalter was luckier—Encarnacion’s blast into the second deck merely sent the Jays to a division series; Ishikawa’s launch to the top of Levi’s Landing had a National League pennant attached to it.

Matheny reminded everyone what Showalter would forget a mere two years later: the time to bring your absolute best relief pitcher into a game is when it’s squarely on the line, previously designated “role” be damned. Especially when postseason advancement or a trip to the World Series depends on it. That’s not purely a thought from the school of analytics. It’s what they taught in Common Sense Elementary School.

If the Mets take Vaccaro’s suggestion seriously, they should be mindful of Jones’s reminder to put Showalter through the full vetting process. That vetting must include Showalter telling them, at least, what he wouldn’t deign to tell Serby over a year ago.

The Mets should damn well want to know why else—beyond no “save situation”—Showalter left his best relief option to rot when that option just might have sent the game to a twelfth inning giving his team one more chance to win at minumum. Accountability neither begins nor ends with the players.

If Showalter says only and again that nobody wants to hear those ten things you may not know about that situation, the one that sent his team home for a winter too soon, the Mets’ proper reply should be, “Way wrong answer! Thanks for coming, Buck, and don’t let the door knob goose you on your way out.”

Phoenix rising—for one night in Baltimore

Over the entrance to old Memorial Stadium, it saluted Baltimore’s war fallen: “Time Will Not Dim The Glory of Their Deeds.” Over the entrance to Camden Yards, the temptation is powerful enough to hang a sign reading “Deed.” Singular.

This is how badly the Orioles wanted to snap their losing streak before it arrived into the Terrible Twenties: Catcher Austin Wynns had sage shipped to Camden Yards, which he and first baseman Trey Mancini paraded around the park before the game. Mancini bragged about his freshly-grown superstition mustache, and center fielder Cedric Mullins went the opposite way and shaved his beard.

You’ll do anything to break the spell. If you’d seen assorted Orioles conducting a clubhouse seance asking for kind permission to address Frank Robinson in the Elysian Fields, you wouldn’t have been terribly shocked—though you might have expected Robinson to pass the line to any St. Louis Browns who happened to be eavesdropping.

The Orioles entered Wednesday with the sixth-lowest season’s winning percentage of any team in franchise history. Of the other five, four were Browns . . . and one was the sadder-sack 2018 Orioles. The last thing these Birds wanted was to continue like cooked geese.

They finally put superstition, supernatural, and extraterrestrial to one side and decided the only way to do it was to play baseball. When Angels third baseman David Fletcher flied out to deepest right field in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, the ballpark audience already on its feet roaring let out a scream as though their Woe-rioles had just won the seventh game of the World Series.

That’s what ending a nineteen-game winning streak with a 10-6 win does for a crowd maybe half of whom actually came to the park to see the Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani. As if they were half conceding the game before Orioles opener Chris Ellis threw his first pitch of the evening.

That’s what prying, pushing, and pounding a five-run eighth out of the Angels’ bullpen does, an inning after it looked as though the Orioles wasted their best chance to overthrow the Angels for good.

That’s what shoving back after an early two-run lead turned to a still-too-early four-run deficit closed back up to a pair does. That’s what playing in the end like anything but a team designed explicitly to go into the tank for who knows how long does, too.

That’s also what knowing damn well you need to atone for one of the least-timely wasted outs of the season when you have only six outs left to play with, which is just what the Orioles in the eighth had to do about the seventh. Two on, nobody out, is the time to shove with your shoulder, not nudge with your hip.

Damn lucky for the Orioles that they had an eighth-inning push, shove, and mind over matter with a pair of bases-loaded walks setting up a bigger shove and a punctuation mark to nail the win that would keep them short of the gates of infamy for the time being. They haven’t joined the 20+ loss in a row club occupied ignominiously by the 1961 Phillies (23), the 1988 Orioles (21), the 1969 Expos (20), the 1943 and 1916 A’s (20 each), or the 1906 Boston Americans (20).

Yet.

But when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde ordered Austin Wynns to sacrifice with Jahmei Jones (leadoff single) on second and Victor Gutierrez (plunked) on first, jaws should have dropped. And Hyde should have had his hide tanned. Why not reach for Jorge Mateo—hitting .356 as a part-timer—to pinch-hit for Wynns and take over at shortstop the rest of the game, and insert Pedro Severino behind the plate, when you might get a two-run base hit out of Mateo?

Oops. Wynns dropped his bunt right back to the box. The Orioles merely closed the deficit to a single run. They had a lot to atone for in the eighth.

Lucky for them Mancini greeted Angels reliever Jake Petricka with a base hit up the pipe. Lucky for them that Anthony Santander—he taking the American League’s best OPS in August into the game—doubled to the right field corner almost promptly for second and third. Lucky for them Petricka and the Angels decided to hand D.J. Stewart first on the house to load the pads.

Lucky for them Jose Urias and, one out later, Gutierrez caught Petricka unable to find the strike zone if he’d sent out a surveillance mission, sending Mancini and Santander strolling home with the tying and go-ahead runs. Very lucky for them pinch hitter Austin Hays introduced himself rudely to Petricka’s relief James Hoyt with a double off the left field fence, and that Mullins greeted yet another Angel bull, Sam Selman, with a sacrifice fly to left.

That all had to be far more satisfying than Mullins hitting Ohtani’s first pitch of the bottom of the first over the center field fence, or Santander sending an 0-1 fastball into the right field bleachers two outs later. Or, Stewart following Satander’s leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth with a blast over the left field fence.

The crash carts stayed on double red alert when the Angels tied at two with rookie Brandon Marsh lining a two-run single down the right field line. But after Marsh got thrown out stealing with Adell at the plate, and Juan Lagares lining out for the side, the game suddenly looked like a question of who’d outplay their own mistakes better.

When the Angels took the 6-2 lead in the fourth, it looked like the answer would be them. Ellis’s evening ended when Jared Walsh hit his inning-opening meatball into the right field bleachers. Reliever Marcos Diplan carried a 1.80 ERA over his past seven days in from the Oriole bullpen. Jose Iglesias was so unimpressed he whacked a double into the right field corner. Stassi was even less impressed, letting Diplan fail to find the strike zone even with a GPS and taking a leisurely walk up to first.

Up came Marsh, who resembles a young man with the life ambition to star in any future reboot of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. He cared about Diplan’s impressive week’s ERA the least, sending his first career home run over the left center field fence. Making him the sixth Angel to hit his premiere Show bomb in Camden Yards.

I’m rooting for the Orioles to lose two more games,” tweeted an Oriole fan, “not because I don’t like them, but because at this point it’s like, why not go for the history books?”

“”There was tension in our dugout, there was pressure,” Hyde told reporters after the game. “Everybody was on the top step. “Our guys just really wanted this one. We’re tired of hearing, tired of seeing it on TV. Everybody’s tired of it.”

“”It’s electric in there,” Mullins said of the post-game clubhouse, after Wells got Fletcher to hit the game-ending fly out and took a hug with (read carefully) ninth-inning catching insertion Severino, while their mates celebrated more casually on the playing field than the fans in the stands.

Conner Greene relieved Diplan after ball one to Lagares and got rid of him, Ohtani, and Fletcher almost in a blink. On a night the Orioles couldn’t afford too many blinks. As if to remind his mates, Stewart followed Satander’s leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth with his own launch over the left center field fence. And Greene kept the Angels quiet in the top of the fifth.

Yet another Oriole bull, Cole Susler, shook Marsh’s leadoff single off in the top of the sixth to lure Adell into forcing him out at second before striking Lagares and Ohtani out swinging. At minimum, the Orioles might at least brag that they sent Ohtani’s season ERA up to three after five full innings.

Dillon Tate picked up where Susler left off in the Los Angeles seventh. Oriole fan kept telling him- or herself that a two-run deficit wasn’t equal to trying to climb the Transamerica Tower in beach sandals. Tate shook a two-out walk (to Walsh) off and lured Iglesias into an inning-ending ground out to third. Nine outs left to close and overcome.

Tate got rid of Stassi on an inning-opening ground out in the top of the eighth, then yielded to Tanner Scott. Scott struck Marsh out and got Adell to ground out to third. Swift enough inning. The Orioles still had six outs to play with, with three reasonably loaded weapons—Mancini, Santander, and Stewart—due up in the bottom of the eighth.

Wynns ought to buy Hays chateaubriand for dinner for the rest of the year, after Hays performed his penance for that seventh-inning bunt. The Orioles might want to send Ohtani a bottle of wine—Wednesday was the first time any team hit two or more home runs off him in the same game.

“These guys have dealt with a lot,” said Hyde. “Call it rebuilding or what you want, but it’s not fun to lose. You want to show your fans that the big league club is going to be fun to watch and there’s pieces coming. That’s what’s been disappointing.” If only Hyde could pound that into the thick skulls of the Orioles’ ten-thumbed ownership and by-design-hobbled front office.

No. We’ve already made that argument. It’ll be made again come the off-season and the talks for a new collective bargaining agreement. Tanking is a disgrace. It’s fan abuse and unworthy of the game. Even Oriole fans know the difference between this year’s model and the team that opened 1988 0-21 is that that team, at least, wasn’t built to tank.

Let’s push that all away for other days. There’s no percentage or pleasure in it now. On Wednesday night, the Orioles played and stood beyond. They played like . . . anybody but the Orioles.

Sure they caught a few breaks and damn near wrecked their own cause themselves late. But they took fair advantage of the breaks they caught, atoned for their self-near-ruination in fine style, and looked for once in their lives like something resembling their well-storied forebears.

Cooked geese the night before, the Orioles became a phoenix for one night. For the first time in nineteen games, and maybe all season long, these built-for-failure Orioles found a way to play better than the way they were built.

Tanks for nothing

Do you really need a solid argument against tanking? We all know that two teams thought it would get them to the World Series. In their outlying cases, they were right.

We all know one has a long-tainted Series win, the year after the other won its first Series since fourteen days after the Model T Ford was launched officially.

We all know a number of other teams have gone in the tanks and come up with nothing remotely close to those two. The ones with that tainted Series win is still in the thick of the races with a decent chance to win a clean Series. The ones who ended their 108-year rebuilding effort with a Series win had a fire sale at this year’s trade deadline.

And we also know that there’s no greater argument against tanking teams, not to mention the baseball regime that lets them get away with it, than the team that once set the American League losing streak record while falling two short of the Show record.

What’s the difference between the 1988 Orioles and this year’s model? Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic asked and answered a few days ago: The ’88 Orioles were at least trying. They had two future Hall of Famers, a few former All-Stars, and a Hall of Fame outfielder who’d been ornery as a player but developed an amazing sense of the absurd as a skipper.

Told that a local disc jockey would stay on the air until his Orioles finally won a game, Frank Robinson deadpanned, “We’re gonna kill the poor guy.” Late in the streak, Robinson pulled his office desk drawer open and pulled out a button he’d been handed by a sympathetic fan for luck: “It’s been lovely, but I have to scream now.”

Those Orioles themselves developed considerable gallows humour as the streak continued apace. Spotting a writer new on the Oriole beat, Cal Ripken, Jr. beckoned him over: “Join the hostages.”

They finally broke the streak on 29 April 1988. It took a guy with a 4.00+ ERA starting to hold the White Sox scoreless while the most they could muster through six was a two-run homer (Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in the first) and a run home on a wild pitch (to Hall of Famer Ripken).

Look at the line score and it looks like the Orioles rose from the dead in the seventh. Look at the actual inning and it was an RBI double, another run home on a throwing error, another run home on a busted, bases-loaded fielder’s choice, and a third run home on a sacrifice fly. Except for the RBI double all four runs were unearned.

In the ninth, Ripken led off with a home run off the White Sox’s then-remarkable closer Bobby Thigpen, and Terry Kennedy sent Fred Lynn home with a single off Thigpen.

The inspiring words on the outside of Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium, on what was called Memorial Wall, read, “Time Will Not Dim the Glory of Their Deeds.” They finished the tribute to Baltimore’s wartime fallen. They took on a perverse new meaning when the Orioles ended that losing streak. Then the Orioles blew up again the day after, losing to the White Sox, 4-1. It must have been awful tempting to add a p.s. to the Memorial Wall: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.”

This year’s model should only be that lucky.

This year’s Orioles have committed few good deeds and inflicted excess punishment—on their fans. Oriole jokes run rampant. (The Orioles can’t use the Internet—they can’t put three Ws together!)

This year’s model has a couple of former All-Stars turned reclamation projects that look one day like stickers and the next like the Orioles can’t wait for someone else to re-claim them. Though even they might be hard pressed to figure out why.

Even the in-season retirement of Chris Davis, bombardier turned walking deadman for too long, too sadly, too lacking for knowledge as to what really happened and why, didn’t leave room for a change in fortune.

Now these Orioles have lost nineteen straight. Number nineteen really hits where it hurts. The good news Monday was the Orioles scoring eight runs. The bad news was that they were destroyed by the Angels—a team one game under .500 but still going nowhere much, despite the presence of Two-Way Ohtani while still missing Mike (Mr. Everything) Trout on the injured list—before they got their second run of the game.

The Angels bludgeoned the Orioles, 14-8, with thirteen runs in three innings straight (five in the second and fourth, three in the third) before tacking another on in the eighth. All that was after the Orioles opened with a 1-0 lead thanks to Ryan Mountcastle’s one-out homer off former Oriole Dylan Bundy. No lead goes unpunished anymore, either.

The Orioles have been in the tank since the 2016 wild card game. “I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it,” then-manager Buck Showalter still insisted four years later. “I’m at peace with that.”

Oriole fans (yes, there remain Oriole fans) may never be at peace with Showalter absolutely refusing to bring in the best relief pitcher of 2016 with two on, one out, and Edwin Encarnacion due to check in at the plate in the bottom of the eleventh—because Zack Britton doesn’t come in unless, you know, the Orioles have a lead to protect. The Gospel According to Blind Managers Needing a Stopper Five Seconds Ago.

So Showalter left Ubaldo Jimenez in. And Encarnacion left the Orioles behind when his three-run homer sailed into Rogers Centre’s second deck. Showalter’s still at peace with that? He’s lucky Earl Weaver didn’t throw lightning bolts down on his head from the Elysian Fields.

The Orioles decided the only way to get back to greatness from there was to go in the tank. They finished dead last in the American League East in three of the four seasons to follow, a fourth-place finish breaking the monotony. They’re 201-345 over the span. They also fired Showalter after their 47-115, fire-sale accented 2018. As if it was Showalter’s idea to go tanking the night away.

“The sport is cyclical,” Rosenthal wrote. “Teams, especially those with lower revenues, occasionally must rebuild. From 2012 to ’16, the Orioles won more regular-season games than any team in the American League. They were bound to regress. But even Major League Baseball is now implicitly acknowledging that some teams go too far in what Tony Clark, the head of the Players Association, once called “the race to the bottom.”

It won’t do to point to two more low-revenue teams and notice six trips to the postseason in the past nine years (a tip of the beak, Athletics) or six in the past thirteen including a pair of World Series appearances. (Greetings, Rays.) Those two teams have established front office brains. Orioles general manager Mike Elias came in in 2018—when Dan Duquette was executed after the season—with the Orioles tying one hand behind his back to open.

His own career having begun covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Evening Sun during that ’88 losing streak (was he the one Ripken invited to join the hostages?), Rosenthal points to Elias’s predecessor Dan Duquette stripping the major league roster with trades that haven’t proven successful yet, if they ever will.

The Orioles’ ten-thumbed ownership left Elias to spend his first few seasons on baseball’s version of poverty row. The team’s international and analytics departments need either a booster or an overhaul. These Orioles may also have the number two farm system at this writing, but they have the pitching depth of a match book up and down the organisation.

What a long, strange trip it’s been for an organisation that boasts seven men (Murray, Ripken, Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Mike Mussina, and longtime manager Earl Weaver) wearing Orioles hats on their Hall of Fame plaques.

These Orioles, as Rosenthal says, should be hoisted as Exhibit A in the Tanking Hall of Shame. They’re the number one argument that tanking needs to be stopped, once and for all, that those who own major league franchises have an obligation to make their best efforts to put a competitive product on the field. Even modestly-endowed franchises can and have been known in the past to retool/remake/rebuild on the fly while continuing to keep competing.

It’s unhealthy for baseball when one of its formerly model franchises stands as the lead argument against what Rosenthal calls “owners perpetuat[ing] their rebuilding myths, getting away with lower payrolls and the losing that comes with them, knowing many fans will raise nary a whimper, wanting to see only the best in their favorite teams.”

“This is incredibly challenging and a huge gut check,” said manager Brandon Hyde after the Angels scorched the Camden Yards earth Monday. “We’re trying to keep our spirits high.” They may be tempted to drinking more than their fair share of spirits before this debacle ends.

If and when these Orioles finally figure out a way to keep from joining their 1988 forebears or the major league losing-streak record holders (the 1961 Phillies), I’m pretty sure they won’t resurrect the inspiring words posted on the outside of the late Memorial Stadium.

But they might hang a banner across the warehouse behind Camden Yards with a line from former Beatle George Harrison, of blessed memory: “All Things Must Pass.” The cynic will be ready to hang a next-day p.s.: “Including One-Game Winning Streaks.”

The Mets add the unwritten rule-breaking Sisco Kid

Chance Sisco, Jose Berrios

Leave a man open turf, don’t whine when he accepts the gift.

“This is what I call taking a chance,” said Old Grumpy Elder. He called to tell me the Mets picked Orioles catcher Chance Sisco off the waiver wire, and he took no chances on missing the opportunity for a dubious pun.

I happened to spot the news courtesy of New York Daily News writer Deesha Thosar on Twitter just before Old Grumpy rang. I couldn’t resist asking whether she was tempted to cue up Johnny Mathis’s ancient hit, “Chances Are.” She hasn’t answered at this writing.

From the look of it, the Mets decided they needed either a spare part or someone to pick up some minor league depth slack. Sisco didn’t exactly make Baltimore people forget Elrod Hendricks or Rick Dempsey behind the plate. He’s not ugly, so he wouldn’t make them forget Andy Etchebarren, either.

Sisco is still considered a catcher with talent despite not having turned his minor league advancements into comparable Show deliverance. The Mets optioned him to Syracuse (Triple-A) for now. His wounding flaw in the Show: proneness to striking out, though it beats hitting into double plays. (He’s averaged 1.3 hits into double plays a year so far.)

“He was actually having a decent turn behind the plate when he got there this year,” I said. “He got into 21 games and started nineteen of them. He was actually three runs saved above the league’s average at his position.”

“Never mind the esoteric crap,” Grumpy snorted. “What’s his fielding average this year?”

“Seven points above his league average for catchers.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m serious. He’s fielding a thousand percent behind the plate this year and the league average for catchers is .993.”

“OK, yeah,” Grumpy said. Then I heard him snap his fingers. “Hey! Now I remember him. From three years ago. That game against the Twins. This guy’s gonna get the Mets into hot water if he pulls a stunt like that again.”

That was a reference to the April Fool’s Day 2018 game in which the Orioles were down 7-0 in the ninth and Sisco beat out a bunt for a base hit. Not because he’s any kind of road runner, but because the Twins were foolish enough to put an overshift on him to the right side of the infield.

The small details: Twins pitcher Jose Berrios was trying to finish a one-hitter and had one out in the ninth. Sisco’s a lefthanded batter. He’d also had the only Oriole hit of the game to that point. The Twins thought a guy who hit .181 and batted (according to Real Batting Average) a mere .364 was liable to go Yogi Berra on them.

So they left him enough third base-side real estate for a homesteader to build himself a five-bedroom mini-mansion. Sure enough, Sisco dropped the bunt there and was safer at first than a nursing baby.

Berrios and the Twins were steaming mad over it. Even after they finished the Orioles despite a followup unintentional walk and a line single up the pipe to load the pillows. It took a pop out foul behind the plate and a strikeout to do it.

“You blame them for being p.o.ed at him?” Grumpy asked, deadly serious.

“I don’t care if he’s bunting,” Berrios told reporters after the game. “I just know it’s not good for baseball in that situation, that’s it.”

I quoted that back to Grumpy. “The only thing worse,” he said, “would have been if Berrios was trying to finish a no-hitter.”

“Well, then,” I began, “who was the genius who told the Twins infield to leave the third base side unprotected?”

“Irrelevant,” Grumpy answered. “You ever heard of respect for the game? You ever heard of sportsmanship? You ever heard of fair’s fair?”

“You ever heard of all’s fair in love, war, and baseball?” I came back. “You don’t want your guy to blow a no-hitter or a one-hitter, you don’t leave the other guy territory that wide open. Then you’re begging for trouble.”

“C’mon,” Grumpy pleaded, “you know better than that crap. The Orioles were down 7-0. It’s not like they had a prayer left.”

“Did you forget that after Sisco helped himself to what the Twins offered on the house they loaded the bases with still only one out? Seems to me they had five prayers left at least—three on the bases and two more minimum coming to the plate.”

I heard Grumpy make a noise on the other end. I couldn’t tell if it was a snort, a grunt, a cough, or flatulence.

“Yes, his team was down 7-0,” I said. “But whatever happened to playing until the absolute last out? Since when do you just hand the other guys the finish to a one-hitter without making the best stand possible to push back and, you know, win?”

“Not the point,” Grumpy harrumphed.

“Horseshit,” I harrumphed back. “You really think Sisco was supposed to take that overshift as an April Fool’s joke and then thank the nice Twins for the laugh by hitting it right into that packed right side like a good little boy?”

“No fair,” Grumpy whined. “You’re quoting yourself.”

“So what?” I said with a short laugh. “You think I’m the first writer who ever quoted himself?”

Then I remembered Twins second baseman Brian Dozier’s postgame comments. I read them back to Grumpy: “Obviously, we’re not a fan of it. He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at second base but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there.”

“Good for him,” Grumpy said.

“Well,” I said, “I still think it’s to wonder whether the Twins’ own tremendous veteran leadership thought for a moment that overshifting with a 7-0 lead against a sub-mediocre team’s sub-mediocre batter was less criminal than that kid seeing a big fat hole onto which to hit and doing just that. Who says even a bad team’s supposed to just roll over and play dead down seven in the ninth no matter what?”

“Winning isn’t everything.”

“What about not trying to win?” I countered. “Especially when the other guys are dumb enough to give you everything short of a gilt-edged, engraved invitation to make mischief?”

I can’t transcribe Grumpy’s answer in polite company. In impolite company, it would get him served a fist on rye with mustard.