By JUSTIN MCCLURE
With many Salisbury University students representing myriad states from the mid-Atlantic region, it was clear to see which ones were from Maryland prior to yesterday’s American League Wild Card game.
Campus was set ablaze in a wave of orange, black and white as devout Baltimore fans sported their colors for the game as the Orioles (89-73) were set to take on the Toronto Blue Jays (89-73).
Some were in bed some were on the edge of their seats but as the hour approached midnight, Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion belted a shot heard round Baltimore as the ball cleared the outfield wall, and then some, of the Rogers Centre. The three-run home run came in the bottom of the 11th inning as the Orioles lost 5-2, ending their brief postseason push.
As the celebration and uproar subsided for the Blue Jays, many Orioles fans, baseball fans and professional analysts critiqued the Orioles and manager Buck Showalter for the decisions that were made during the game – the most notable being why didn’t Cy Young candidate and star closer Zach Britton not pitch?
Britton, who led the American League in saves (47) mentioned that it was frustrating to sit in the bullpen and watch his team struggle while he couldn’t do anything about it.
But Showalter knew exactly what he was doing.
After the top of the ninth inning, the game was tied at two runs apiece. At this point in time, some argued that Britton should’ve gotten the nod to come in, but instead Brad Brach pitched relief, followed by Darren O’Day, Brian Duensing and finally Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave up the three-run shot that ended the game.
Buck Showalter was playing a game of scenarios all night and he wanted Britton to close the game, to “save” the game for the Orioles and propel them to the American League Divisional Series – it just didn’t happen that way.
According to Gregor Chisholm and Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, Showalter said that Britton was fine.
“I considered a lot of things during the course of the game, but our guys did a good job getting us to that point,” Showalter said. “We just couldn’t finish it off. Yeah, he was available.”
The Orioles gained an early lead as designated-hitter Mark Trumbo, who led the majors in home runs, blasted a ball over the left field wall scoring centerfielder Adam Jones answering Jose Bautista’s solo home run innings earlier. Following that, however, the offense was relatively stagnant.
Then Orioles ace Chris Tillman (16-6) gave up a single to Ezequiel Carrera that scored Michael Saunders tying the game for six-straight innings. Mychal Givens relieved Tillman after that and forced a crucial 5-4-3 double play that got Baltimore out of a jam.
Matter of fact, Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day combined to force three double plays that kept the scoring in check and gave the offense an opportunity to put up some runs on their end, but there was nothing doing.
The Baltimore hitters were aggressive, impatient and at times undisciplined as they chased after the first pitch and swung at balls in the dirt.
Credit is due to the Blue Jays whom outlasted and persevered through a pitching duel turned chess match, but the Orioles did not help themselves by any means.
In Showalter’s perfect world, the big bats would put up some runs and Britton would come in to close the game. However, with extra innings, Showalter needed pitchers that could continue the game and not close it.
The bullpen was stellar last night and even though Jimenez gave up the long ball, it came during a time when the struggling pitcher had improved his performance significantly. Showalter said that Jimenez had been pitching the best out of all of the Orioles’ pitchers, at that point in time.
The wild card game was nothing more than two fighters slugging it out, it just so happened that Toronto delivered the knockout punch. If there’s something to be upset about it should be the lack of offensive production from a team that led the majors in home runs this season.
As for Britton, he didn’t deserve to step on the mound until the Orioles had the lead going into the bottom of an inning.
Nonetheless, it was a good season for the Orioles and in the words of Buck Showalter, “I like our guys.”
Featured image: Photo credit: Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY