O's backstop doubles as ... home-plate ump?

March 1st, 2023

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Orioles and Pirates played a little extra Grapefruit League baseball on Tuesday afternoon -- with O’s non-roster catcher Maverick Handley playing the role of home-plate umpire.

If you’re wondering why Handley was handling the rare catcher/umpire double-duty, well, join the crowd of fans at LECOM Park who already were filing out of the ballpark when they realized the two teams hadn’t left the field at the conclusion of the exhibition game.

Pittsburgh left-hander Cam Alldred had gotten Baltimore’s Josh Lester to ground out to second base for the final out of the top of the ninth inning. The Pirates had a 7-4 lead so, by baseball rules, the game was over, right? No need for the home team to bat in the bottom of the frame while leading.

Well, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde wanted non-roster right-hander Ofreidy Gómez to get his scheduled work in against live hitters. So in the eighth, Hyde and Bucs manager Derek Shelton agreed the teams would play an extra half-inning in order for that to happen.

With the game already played to a finish, the umpiring crew was not under an obligation to proceed to the bottom of the ninth. They left -- and Handley, behind the plate for Baltimore to catch Gómez, received increased responsibility as the teams decided to hold a postgame scrimmage for the equivalent of a half-inning.

It’s common for catchers to call balls and strikes in occasional intrasquad games during camp. That’s what transpired Tuesday, albeit this time with an audience of fans who realized they could stay to watch a bit more baseball.

“A little backfield action,” Hyde said.

Gómez worked a scoreless frame, pitching around a one-out single, even if it didn’t show up in the box score. Handley had some fun with it, perhaps giving himself a bit of a generous strike call at one point. And when the “inning” was over, so was the day’s action -- for real this time.