Without a doubt, one of Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter’s greatest strengths is how he handles a bullpen. His in-game management of his relievers sometimes raises eyebrows, but it’s because he always has a grand plan — one that fans and media aren’t privy to.
He often considers how he might need a certain reliever the next day, the day after that, etc.
But here’s the rub: At this point of the season there are no more tomorrows.
And Showalter’s decision not to remove Wade Miley after six impressive innings was head-shaking at the time. And disastrous in retrospect.
Saturday’s 7-3 loss at Yankee Stadium goes on Showalter’s ledger. And it will linger for a whole lot longer if the Orioles now fail to make the playoffs or fail to host a Wild Card game at Camden Yards.
The background: Miley had 99 pitches and a 3-2 lead heading into the seventh at Yankee Stadium. He had just wiggled out of a shaky sixth inning, permitting a RBI double before notching a strikeout to end the frame.
There was absolutely, positively no reason to push him into the seventh, not with Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and Zach Britton set for the next three innings (and Darren O’Day or Tommy Hunter or Donnie Hart available, if necessary).
The Orioles shut down those three innings and they are basically on the doorstep of hosting the AL Wild Card game.
But Showalter left Miley in to start the seventh. Givens, who had been warming in the bullpen, took a seat.
And Miley served up a game-tying homer to rookie Tyler Austin. And then another single to Ronald Torreyes before finally being removed for Givens, who cleaned up the mess with a fly out and double play.
Showalter said after the game that he didn’t bring in Brach or Givens to start the seventh because he felt Miley was still throwing well. And that, by making that move, he would open up the floodgates of quality left-handed, hitters that were on the bench: Didi Gregorius, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. And he wanted to stick with Miley against the right-handed No. 8 and 9 hitters, Austin and Torreyes.
“This convoluted thing called ‘September baseball,’ you’re just picking your poison when you’ve got guys like (right-handed hitting power hitter Gary Sanchez) and McCann and Gregorius and Ellsbury and all those guys sitting over there,” Showalter said. “That, and (Miley was) pitching well, too. You’re going to start that gate opening up there, too, but that’s why when you’re playing this time of the year you have those issues where you don’t during the season.”
In the eighth, Showalter brought in lefty specialist Donnie Hart to face pinch-hitter McCann, who popped up. Then Showalter summoned Brach, who has been one of the league’s best relievers for most of the season (he had a 5.06 ERA in a rough August, but a 0.75 ERA in 12 September games).
Brach allowed a walk, a double and a two-run single. He was charged with two more earned runs – four total – after he left the game.
“Just sucked. I was not good today,” Brach said. “That was pretty much it.”
Brach fell on the sword. And Miley, who would have had a second consecutive quality start if he had been pulled after the sixth, said there were “just a couple mistakes I made later in the game that they made me pay for.”
The bottom line, though, is that Miley shouldn’t have been in that game in the seventh.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said he thought Miley may have been dealing with a little fatigue in the seventh when he left the pitches over the plate, but that the concept of leaving him in there – given what the Yankees’ lineup looked like – made sense.
“(Miley) had been throwing the ball well. I can’t say what Buck was thinking, but I know if he can get those first two guys out then he gets the left-on-left matchup (with Brett Gardner) that he wants. But it turned out where they put two good swings on two balls. If it works out where he gets the first two guys, then you leave him in to face Gardner and it looks great.”
To me it was a classic case of Showalter over thinking the situation. He was caught up in the hitters that the Yankees could have used and didn’t put his best option on the mound when he should have. Simple as that.
Showalter gets a lot of credit for coaxing so many wins out of this enigmatic club. But, on Saturday, he pulled a loss out of the jaws of victory.
And now the Orioles’ season comes down to one game.