“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.”
“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.