With baseball, you can debate the smallest of moves that may end up altering the outcome of a game.
Tuesday night, there looked like a major decision might implode on manager Buck Showalter. In the end, though, it didn’t matter, not when Mark Trumbo singled with the bases loaded in the 12th to give the Orioles a 5-4 win against the Washington Nationals.
And after the game, Showalter explained just why he did what he did in the eighth – which made sense given the facts he presented.
Ubaldo Jimenez pitched great Tuesday – no argument there. The oft-ridiculed right-hander basically matched Washington’s ace Max Scherzer frame for frame through seven.
“Ubaldo pitched real well,” Showalter said. “When you’ve got a guy like Scherzer out there, you know runs are going to be at a premium for your offense, so you’ve got to really dial up a good one and he did. Really proud of him. That was a really good lineup and he pitched well.”
Sure, Scherzer carried a no-hitter into the sixth, but a solo homer by Seth Smith broke up an attempt at history and knotted the game at 1-1.
Jimenez, who isn’t really considered Scherzer’s equal in baseball circles, also had allowed a lone run on a solo homer (by Daniel Murphy) heading into the eighth.
So, it was an old-fashioned pitching duel between one of baseball’s most feared pitchers and one of its most confounding.
And then the battle unraveled in the eighth. That’s where some serious Internet debating commenced.
Jimenez entered the inning with just 91 pitches thrown – a pretty efficient number through seven. And not nearly his highest this year; he had outings of 104 and 108 pitches in April.
Showalter stuck with Jimenez to face the bottom half of the Nats’ powerful lineup. Jimenez allowed a slicing single to Anthony Rendon and a bloop single to Matt Wieters.
At that point, Jimenez had 98 pitches. Mychal Givens was warming in the bullpen. And Showalter stuck with Jimenez, who struck out Chris Heisey on three pitches (albeit, two of them bad bunt attempts).
Then Nationals manager Dusty Baker summoned the left-handed Adam Lind to pinch-hit. Showalter stuck with Jimenez, who promptly allowed a three-run homer – Lind’s third pinch-hit blast already this year.
And Twitter exploded.
Why was Jimenez still in the game? Why wasn’t Givens or lefty Donnie Hart?
Well, Showalter explained later, that Givens, Hart and Logan Verrett were all he had in the bullpen Tuesday. He wasn’t using Brad Brach, who had pitched in four of the last five games, Darren O’Day, who had pitched in three of the last four, or Alec Asher, who had thrown 3 1/3 innings Sunday and was a bit sore Tuesday.
With the game tied, and extra innings a possibility, Showalter was saving his remaining bullets and sticking with Jimenez, who was at 101 pitches and only needed two more outs to escape the eighth. It’s not as if he were laboring previously.
Flip side, of course, is that seven tremendous innings from Jimenez against the mighty Nationals was plenty good. Accept the gift and move on.
It could have gone either way, I suppose. I understand the criticism in this instance, but, frankly, handling/protecting a bullpen is one of Showalter’s biggest strengths.
He is confident enough in his abilities that he doesn’t manage to win one game without considering how his decisions may affect the club down the road.
“Roger (McDowell) and I made the decision we weren’t gonna use three or four of our guys tonight, regardless,” Showalter said. “(The short bullpen) figured into it strongly. We’ve got to think about a lot of things (before replacing Jimenez). We’ve got Mychal and Donnie a little bit and (the Nationals have) all the moves with the switch hitters, left and right.”
I’ve covered managers who act as if every contest is Game Seven of the World Series, and they burn out their best relievers by June.
Showalter gambled Tuesday night with Jimenez and it didn’t work out. But now he’ll have more relievers, theoretically anyway, at his disposal on the road Wednesday in DC.
Verrett, ultimately, made Showalter’s decision stand up when he threw three scoreless innings for the win.
The funny thing is, Showalter hates when people boil a game down to one play. And, really, Tuesday was a perfect example of that “so many variables” concept; so many things that could have gone one way or the other.
Some on Twitter argued that third base coach Bobby Dickerson shouldn’t have sent the slow-footed J.J. Hardy home on a Caleb Joseph single with two outs in the 11th and cannon-armed Bryce Harper throwing in right.
But I think it was the right call with two outs. You make the opposition make a great throw and tag to stop you. And Harper and catcher Wieters did.
You could have made the argument that perhaps Hyun Soo Kim should have been pinch-hitting for Joseph in that 11th-inning situation, but Joseph did his job with the single.
And Baker can be scrutinized for walking Chris Davis to load the bases in the 12th, allowing Trumbo to deliver the game-winner – though that really is a pick-your-poison moment.
So many things to analyze from Tuesday, but ultimately it was an excellent game to watch.
And a big comeback for an Orioles team that now has the best record in baseball at 22-10.