Buck on Wieters: ‘Times like this you realize how much Matt means to this club’
The first homer was blasted, landing in the second deck beyond right field at Yankee Stadium.
The second home run, though, that’s the one that caught our attention.
Not because of where it landed – a 370-plus foot shot to left – but for the statement it made.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters isn’t going away quietly.
You know the narrative by now. Wieters, signed in 2007 with the fifth overall pick out of Georgia Tech, was supposed to be the best big league catcher since Johnny Bench.
Instead, he’s been steady. Behind the plate, at the plate, in the clubhouse. He has his flaws, he’s had his injuries, but, all things considered, he’s been a pretty solid contributor during the Orioles’ recent renaissance. He never carried the team, but he’s led it in the right direction at times.
It was expected that his tenure in Baltimore was over last offseason, when the Orioles finished a middling 81-81 and the pending free agent pushed through a year of on-the-job rehab after elbow surgery in 2014. But the Orioles offered him the $15.8 million, one-year qualifying offer, and he accepted it, keeping him with his original franchise for another campaign.
It hasn’t been a banner season for Wieters; he finishes it hitting .243 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs. But he stayed healthy, and proved he could be a full-time catcher again as he readies for another shot at a free-agent bonanza.
He’s also delivered some clutch moments this year, batting .267 with 44 RBIs in 100 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Crushing to the tune of .429 in 16 plate appearances with the bases loaded. In “late and close” situations, he hit .329 with six homers.
Maybe Sunday, however, was the biggest moment for him in 2016, certainly in the biggest stage so far this year. You can tell there’s additional motivation.
In six playoff games in 2012, Wieters had just three hits in 24 at-bats (.125 average). He didn’t get a chance to redeem himself in 2014, watching from the sidelines after surgery while his teammates made it to the ALCS.
With the Orioles’ backs against the proverbial wall Sunday, needing a win to advance to the playoffs, Wieters came through. He drove in four of the Orioles’ five runs and became the first Oriole since Roberto Alomar in 1996 to homer from both sides of the plate in one game.
“A home run from both sides of the plate?” Orioles closer Zach Britton said. “He’s been doing a great job behind the plate for us, but it just shows what kind of guys we have. In big moments, they step up to the plate and deliver.”
Wieters isn’t one to reveal his innermost feelings, but you could tell how much it meant to him to return to the playoffs, especially if this is it for him as an Oriole.
“I didn’t know going out of last year what the future was going to hold for me this year,” Wieters said during the Orioles’ post-game celebration Sunday. “I can’t imagine anything better than this right here, except for doing it after a World Series with these guys.”
All these Orioles are motivated. All of them want to get to the World Series. But even manager Buck Showalter admits that Wieters is seemingly taking it to another level.
And there is an obvious reason for that: The clock on his Orioles’ career could be ticking.
“Matt has had that competitive edge for about 10 days. Not that he doesn’t have it (usually), it’s just been more,” Showalter said. “Keep in mind, he just caught a night game, day game, and when I asked him (Sunday) how he was feeling it was like, ‘Really? I’m playing.’”
Maybe Wieters will be in Baltimore for several years to come. Or maybe he just played – and homered twice – in his final regular season game as an Oriole.
We won’t know for a few more months.
But, if this is it, it looks like he’s going out with a flourish.
“I think when you get in times like this, you realize how much Matt means to this club and to this organization,” Showalter said.
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