Hyperbole is easy. Human beings routinely reach for top-shelf words and descriptions because they capture feelings better than situating something in the middle. On top of that, your mental library can’t hold that many books; you can only remember so many players or moments that, inevitably, something that may objectively only be good or bad ends up being the greatest or worst you’ve ever seen. That’s understandable, and part of why being online can feel so exhausting sometimes: Everything is the biggest, best, craziest, wildest, most enraging and stupidest.
With all that in mind: This play, from Thursday’s Orioles-Indians game, is without a doubt the single worst, dumbest, ugliest, most inconceivable display of fielding that’s ever been recorded.
Look at this play. Look at it! Play this clip over and over and over again until your eyeballs pop out of your head and onto the floor, where Hanser Alberto will retrieve them and not know what to do with them, either. This is the antithesis of Tom Emanski. It’s the kind of thing that keeps Little League coaches awake at night. It’s the most perfect distillation imaginable of the Orioles and what they’ve become. It’s enough to leave you muttering, “The horror … the horror” to yourself like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. It’s just plain bonkers.
Trying to break this play down is like trying to diagram diarrhea, but I can’t get over how awful it is, so here goes anyway. As you can see at its start, the score is 9–7, Indians, and Cleveland has the bases loaded with one out—and both of those factors are absolutely crucial in turning this from mere blunder to full-blown clown show. At the plate, Jason Kipnis taps a Richard Bleier pitch directly to Alberto, right in between first and second base.
Pause here. You know how this is supposed to go—how any functional major league team would take this. Alberto, given the option of a force at any base, can go home to get Jordan Luplow. He can toss it to Jonathan Villar, who’s a foot away from second base, to retire Francisco Lindor. Maybe for some bizarre reason he can try to nab Leonys Martín heading to third. If all else fails, he can simply flip to first to take Kipnis off the board. Point being, he had options—many, many, many options. Honestly, 99.9999999999999999% of the time, when a play looks like this:
It’s going to end in at least one out.
And again, here’s the most important element of this absolute catastrophe: Alberto had a force at every base. I’m going to repeat this, and for effect, pretend I just appeared in front of you and pulled out a megaphone to yell this: HE HAD A FORCE AT EVERY BASE. Anywhere he went he could have gotten an out! All he had to do was throw the ball to literally any of the bases!! There was no way to come out of this without getting at least one out, and probably two, which would have ended the inning with zero runs scoring!!! I don’t have enough exclamation points to get through this!!!!
Instead, you get the result above. Alberto, who apparently the moment he gloved the ball had his brain go flying out of his nostrils, tries to start a rundown (?!) with Lindor, when again, all he had to do was throw to Villar at second base to get that out and start a double play. Lindor, as flummoxed as anyone else, obliges. But then Alberto compounds his initial screwup by stopping just shy of Lindor (who at this point has given up), not tagging him, and throwing to Chris Davis at first to try to get Kipnis, who’s safe.
By this point, Luplow has already scored from third, and Martín—realizing that the Orioles have been kidnapped and replaced by poorly programmed robots—is also heading home. But the situation can still be salvaged! All Davis has to do is notice Martín rounding third and throw home to stop that. Instead, he too decides that a rundown with Lindor is in order, before realizing that 1) That’s not going to work and 2) Martín is about to score. Finally, after roughly a geologic ice age has passed, Davis whirls and fires home as Martín safely slides in to score the second run on what should have been a tailor-made double play.
The official scorer for this game charitably put this monumental mistake down as a fielder’s choice, which I suppose is accurate in that Alberto chose that particular point in time to forget every single thing he learned about fielding. Then again, I don’t know if “error” goes far enough to describe what happened here. I don’t know if the English language—or any other, for that matter—has the words to convey the combination of shame, sadness and absurdity that define this play. (Maybe German does?) I keep watching it, thinking I’ve missed something obvious, that there’s a very good reason for Alberto to do what he did. A deeper knowledge fails to present itself.
Is this the worst attempt at fielding ever, though? The only play I can think of in recent history that approaches this one for sheer stupidity is this utterly cursed flub by the 2012 Astros, right as that franchise began its steep slide into the pits of hell.
Make no mistake: This is bad. This is an entire infield failing at its job. But to me, the Orioles’ gaffe is worse, and that’s because Houston’s featured a physical collision that derailed the whole enterprise. Once that happened, all bets were off, and the result—brutally comical as it was—was practically fated. But with Baltimore, there was no reason things had to end this way.
Regardless, I’ve now written a thousand words on the baseball equivalent of falling asleep with a pot of water boiling on the stove, so I’ll close by again invoking Brando in Apocalypse Now, to describe exactly what this blooper di tutti bloopers did to my brain.
I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it … I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond … a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God … the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.
The 2019 Orioles: A diamond bullet right through the forehead!