TORONTO — A whole lot of things happened in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
But there’s one decision that won’t be forgotten, that will linger throughout this offseason and maybe beyond.
How do the Orioles lose an 11-inning playoff game without using closer Zach Britton, not only their best pitcher but arguably baseball’s best arm this season?
Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn’t really explain his thinking – but the basic message was this: The Orioles didn’t have a lead to protect and the rest of his bullpen was pitching well.
“I considered a lot of things during the course of the game, but our guys did a good job getting us to that point. We just couldn’t finish it off,” Showalter said. Yeah, (Britton) was available.”
In fact, Britton warmed up three separate times in the bullpen. Three. And didn’t come in once. That’s completely un-Showalter like. He prides himself in not getting relievers up in the bullpen multiple times without using them.
So does he now regret not using Britton, given the fact that starter Ubaldo Jimenez ended up allowing three hits in the 11th, including the season-ending, three-run shot by Edwin Encarnacion?
“You could (regret it) afterwards,” he said. “But we went about four innings there trying to get to that spot.”
That’s baseball conventional wisdom, of course. On the road, save your closer. At home, throw your best pitcher.
“Playing on the road has a little something to do with it, too,” Showalter said. “But we have some good options that have done a great job for us all year, and Zach’s one of those.”
He does. That’s not the point.
Let’s put this in perspective.
To start the 11th, Showalter brought in lefty specialist Brian Duensing to face lefty Ezequiel Carrera, who struck out.
Then Showalter went to Jimenez, who last pitched in relief in August, to face the Jays’ dangerous top of the order. He allowed a single to Devon Travis, a single to Josh Donaldson and the homer to Encarnacion, all in five pitches.
Jimenez gave up three earned runs on one swing; Britton gave up four earned runs in 67 innings this season.
This isn’t about using Jimenez. It’s about not using Britton.
“It’s obviously frustrating to watch the guys battle ahead of you and you want to go in there and do the same. You want to give your offensive team a chance to win, especially knowing that if we don’t win, there’s no tomorrow,” Britton said. “It was tough to be sitting down there and having to watch it, and not getting in the game.”
Britton didn’t point fingers at his manager, though. That’s not his style.
“It was frustrating, but that’s not my call. The guys ahead of me threw really well. Ubaldo has thrown great recently, so there was no doubt in my mind he was going to go out there and throw some zeroes,” Britton said. “They’ve got the best part of their lineup coming up and you knew eventually one of these teams were gonna score, let’s be honest about it.”
For the second time in less than a week, Showalter, a tremendous handler of his bullpen, made a costly and obvious mistake. He left starter Wade Miley in too long on Saturday in an eventual loss to the New York Yankees. And then he didn’t go to Britton as lesser pedigreed pitchers – six relievers — got the call Tuesday.
To be fair, those other relievers kept the game scoreless until the 11th – and Showalter deserves credit for pushing those buttons.
But all that will be forgotten due to Britton’s healthy DNP.
Arguably the AL Cy Young frontrunner, Britton said he was told before the game to be ready in any situation, even if it meant multiple innings.
But what he wasn’t prepared for is what none of us were prepared for.
In the biggest game of the year, the Orioles’ best pitcher didn’t pitch.