Ask any Pirates fan and they’ll tell you how bad second baseman Josh VanMeter is. The 27-year-old is batting .171 with .496 OPS in 15 games this season. Well, as of today, not only is he the worst second baseman some Pirates fans have ever seen, he’s also the worst catcher.
Our story, like many episodes of modern baseball drama, begins with a umpire taking his power to his head. In the bottom half of the sixth during the first game of tonight’s doubleheader with the Cincinnati Reds, home plate umpire Will Little ejected Pirates backup catcher Andrew Knapp from the dugout for arguing a check swing call. The Pirates’ manager, Derek Shelton, burst from the dugout for an explanation, but the call had already been placed. It wasn’t even that bad, just a little chirp in a tight ball game. The game ended up being tied 2-2 and the Pirates had to win this game. Any team that loses to the Reds is met with an eternity of ridicule and agony.
Even so, the pirates had lost Knapp. No big deal. Their starting catcher Roberto Pérez was still in the game. Better yet, he led the eighth inning with a single. Outfielder Ben Gamel backed that up with a single to the right. Unfortunately, while finishing second, Pérez tripped and injured his thigh muscles. He wouldn’t be able to stay in the game. But that’s okay. The pirates can just go to their third catcher… oh they don’t have one.
Instead of a true catcher, the Pirates had to turn to their emergency catcher, second baseman Josh VanMeter. VanMeter had never caught up in a professional environment before. Not in the majors, not in the minors. In fact, the last time VanMeter was in high school was 12 years ago, when VanMeter was “14 or 15.”
The Pirates failed to score in the top of the inning, so VanMeter entered his first-ever professional catching experience in a tie ball game. The pressure was high and VanMeter’s inexperience showed.
The first batter of the inning was hit by a pitch. Pitcher Wil Crowe was doing VanMeter a disservice when he threw a wild pitch. Obviously, VanMeter had trouble stopping him, and the runner advanced to second base. Tommy Pham went to dress two men with no one outside. Referee Little definitely didn’t help VanMeter. VanMeter had no idea how to frame pitches, so Little called anything and everything a ball unless the ball was right on Broadway. Mike Mustakas left. Bases were loaded for Tyler Stephenson. The at-bat’s first pitch was fouled right into VanMeter’s mask. You could see that didn’t sit well with the career provider.
Stephenson would end up doubling. That’s two runs across the plate. Beau Sulser came in. It didn’t go any better. Colin Moran walked, and after a strikeout and sacrifice fly, it looked like the Pirates would come out of the inning with just three runs allowed. However, Sulser made a mistake and reloaded the bases. Tyler Naquin doubled and brought in three more. Then Drury, the same man who led the inning, doubled to bring in Naquin. Eventually, Pham set out to end the suffering. Seven runs across.
It was a tie just half an inning ago. Now the game was practically out of reach. That’s more than twice as many runs as the Reds have had victories all season. They scored more runs that inning than any GAME they had played before. Is this all on VanMeter? No, but it’s a hilarious coincidence that will likely keep VanMeter up at night for several weeks. But it could have been worse. At least VanMeter can take comfort in the fact that no Cincy baserunner dared put a bag on him. Nobody wanted to test this cannon… or maybe it was because there were always runners on the base. Yes, it’s probably the latter.