Ask any Pirates fan and they’ll tell you how bad a second baseman Josh VanMeter is. The 27-year-old is hitting .171 with a .496 OPS in 15 games this season. Well, after today, he’s not only the worst second baseman some Pirates fans have ever seen, but the worst catcher as well.
Our story begins like many episodes of modern baseball drama do, with an umpire who let his power get to his head. In the bottom of the sixth during the first game of today’s doubleheader with the Cincinnati Reds, home plate umpire Will Little ejected the Pirates’ backup catcher Andrew Knapp from the dugout for arguing a check-swing call. Pirates’ manager Derek Shelton bolted out of the dugout for an explanation, but the call had already been made. It wasn’t even that bad, just a little chirping in a close ball game. The game was tied 2-2 after all, and the Pirates needed to win this game. Any team that loses to the Reds is bound to an eternity of ridicule and torment.
Nonetheless, the Pirates had lost Knapp. No big deal. Their starting catcher Roberto Pérez was still in the game. Better yet, he led off the eighth inning with a single. Outfielder Ben Gamel backed that up with a single to right. Unfortunately though, as Pérez was rounding second, he tripped and injured his hamstring. He wouldn’t be able to stay in the game. That’s okay though. The Pirates can just go to their third catcher...oh, they don’t have one.
Instead of an actual catcher, the Pirates were forced to turn to their emergency catcher, second baseman Josh VanMeter. VanMeter had never caught in a professional setting before. Not in the Majors, not in the minors. In fact, the last time VanMeter caught was in high school, 12 years ago, when VanMeter was “14 or 15.”
The Pirates couldn’t score in the top of the inning, so VanMeter was entering his first ever professional catching experience in a tie ballgame. The pressure was on, and VanMeter’s inexperience showed.
The first hitter of the inning was hit by a pitch. Pitcher Wil Crowe wasn’t doing VanMeter any favors as he proceeded to throw a wild pitch. Obviously, VanMeter had a difficult time stopping it, and the runner advanced to second base. Tommy Pham walked to put two men on with nobody out. The umpire Little was definitely not helping VanMeter out. VanMeter had no idea how to frame pitches, so unless the ball was right down Broadway, Little was calling anything and everything a ball. Mike Moustakas walked. Bases were loaded for Tyler Stephenson. The first pitch of the at-bat was fouled off, right into VanMeter’s mask. You could tell that didn’t sit too well with the career utility man.
Stephenson would wind up doubling. That’s two runs across the plate. In came Beau Sulser. Things didn’t go any better. Colin Moran walked, and after a strikeout and sacrifice fly, it looked like the Pirates were going to get out of that inning with only three runs allowed. However, Sulser committed an error, loading the bases again. Tyler Naquin doubled and brought in three more. Then Drury, the same man who led off the inning, doubled to bring in Naquin. Finally, Pham grounded out to end the suffering. Seven runs across.
Just a half-inning ago, it was a tie game. Now, the game was practically out of reach. That’s more than twice as many runs as the Reds had wins all season. They scored more runs in that inning than they had in any GAME they’d played prior. Is that all on VanMeter? No, but it’s a hilarious coincidence that will probably keep VanMeter up at night for several weeks. It could’ve been worse though. At least VanMeter can take solace in the fact that no Cincy baserunner dared attempt to swipe a bag on him. Nobody wanted to test that cannon...or maybe it’s because there were always runners on base. Yeah, it’s probably the latter.