Orioles-Pirates on Tuesday was an exercise in nested emptiness. Spring training doesn't count, none of the hits or outs or even wins or losses that take place within it count, this season won't really count for anything for either of those teams (Baltimore is not there yet; Pittsburgh is not there ever), baseball is a made-up sport, and we're all just evanescent carbon specks in an uncaring universe. To that these teams added one more tiny matryoshka of meaninglessness, by playing a half-inning that will never show up even in a spring box score.
After the official end of Pittsburgh's 7-4 home win following the top of the ninth, the Orioles made a proposal. They wanted to get pitcher Ofreidy Gómez some work, so would the Pirates mind sending some batters up to face him? Rather than make some rude comments about Baltimore's bullpen mismanagement in a fake game, the Bucs said they were fine with taking part in this phantom half-inning. But the umpiring crew was not. “We were told by the league that we could clear it by the umpires and pitch the bottom half of the ninth inning,” O's manager Brandon Hyde said, “and I guess [crew chief] Chad Fairchild felt that we couldn’t.”
The umps turned in for the day, leading the teams to play a half-inning without the boys in blue.
Catcher Maverick Handley called balls and strikes, which is how teams do it in live BP. He was perhaps unsurprisingly a little generous with his zone—note his pitch-framing at the 2:24 mark of the video, complete with strike signal—but no one complained. One man reached base on a single, but the Pirates failed to fake extend their lead.
I like this! It's very pleasant—very sandlot ball. Moves along at a nice pace. Everyone's smiling. Weather looks great. Forget the pitch clock or the big bases: Could getting rid of umpires be the thing that fixes baseball? At the very least, anything that makes Orioles-Pirates a nice viewing experience is worth investigating further.