On August 1, 2014, Ryan Webb was called into manager Buck Showalter’s office. The Orioles had just traded for reliever Andrew Miller, and Webb was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk.
Webb had a rough July — his ERA had risen from 2.48 to 3.80 — and was the logical player to be cut so that Miller could be added.
The 2014 Orioles, who won the American League East, had a superb bullpen. Their relievers had an ERA of just 3.10.
Webb’s 3.80 ERA was the highest. If he had been pitching in 2019, that ERA would have been by far the best of the Orioles’ bullpen.
Several weeks ago, we looked at the fun that was the 2012 Orioles, but by 2014 the team changed dramatically.
J.J. Hardy was still at shortstop. Adam Jones was still in center. And Nick Markakis was still in right. But by September, three mainstays were missing.
Catcher Matt Wieters didn’t play after May 10 and underwent Tommy John surgery. Third baseman Manny Machado, who had left knee surgery in 2013, was lost because of right knee surgery in August. First baseman Chris Davis was handed a 25-game suspension in September for using Adderall without a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball.
By the time the postseason came, Nick Hundley was the regular catcher, Alejando De Aza was playing left field, and Steve Pearce was at first base.
Pearce had the season of his life, hitting 21 home runs with a .930 OPS, but the story of the Orioles that year was the pitching.
Chris Tillman had blossomed into a frontline starter, Wei-Yin Chen was a tough left-hander, Miguel González had another good season, but the team’s biggest surprise was Bud Norris, a quirky, fast-talking right-hander.
Norris went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA, by far the best in his big league career. He was helped by the Orioles’ new pitching coach, Dave Wallace.
Wallace had one remarkable accomplishment. Everywhere he coached — the Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox and Astros — he managed to turn one pitcher with a undistinguished record into a star.
In 2014, it was Norris’ turn.
Although the starters were awfully good, the Orioles’ bullpen was magnificent. The year before, Dan Duquette, who ran baseball operations, decided that Jim Johnson, who saved 101 games in 2012 and 2013, was getting too expensive for the team.
In a move that rankled Showalter, Duquette peddled Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for two fringe players, infielder Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas, just minutes before the deadline for tendering contracts.
Technically, it was Weeks and a player-to-be-named later, who turned into Freitas.
The salary dump saved the Orioles from paying Johnson $10 million in 2014, the year before he hit free agency, but it left the Orioles without a closer.
A deal with free-agent reliever Grant Balfour fell apart because of a failed physical, and Showalter started the 2014 season with Tommy Hunter as closer. But by the middle of May, he decided that Zack Britton would be his ninth-inning guy.
Britton had struggled as a starter, but he was superb in the bullpen, saving 37 games with a 1.65 ERA. It was the start of an excellent four-year run for Britton.
Now that the Orioles had a closer who turned out to be even better than Johnson, they surrounded him with immense talent. Darren O’Day had a 1.70 ERA as a setup man. Hunter ended up with a sub-3 ERA, and Brad Brach, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland filled key roles.
As the trade deadline neared, the Orioles were only 2 ½ games in front in the AL East, and Duquette engineered the trade that brought Miller to Baltimore.
Miller allowed just eight hits in his 20 innings and had an exceptional 0.600 WHIP.
Even though the Orioles had lost Davis, Machado and Wieters, they still had Hardy and Jones, and power hitter Nelson Cruz.
Signed before the season as a free agent, Cruz proved to be another masterstroke by Duquette. Cruz had 40 homers, 108 RBIs, and was a terrific clubhouse guy.
He mentored rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and was a calming influence on Machado.
In the days before translators, Cruz volunteered to serve as an interpreter for young Latin players and had an endearing habit of beginning his answers to many questions by saying: “Yeah, yeah, no doubt.”
I didn’t enjoy 2014 as much as I did 2012 because my mother-in-law, who had long lived with us, was in ill health during the season and died the day before the Orioles began their Division Series with Detroit.
They polished off the Tigers in three straight, then lost four in a row to the hot Kansas City Royals.
After the season, Markakis, who had played in the postseason for the first time after nine seasons with the Orioles, Cruz and Miller left as free agents.
Cruz’s departure hurt because the Orioles refused to give him the fourth year on his contract that the Seattle Mariners did, and at 40, he hit 41 home runs for the Minnesota Twins in 2019.
The Orioles were afraid that Markakis’ neck was too brittle to hold up. Five seasons later at 35, he was still hitting and well for the Atlanta Braves.
After Markakis’ departure, the Orioles went through a series of rightfielders, none nearly as good.
While the Orioles would qualify for the postseason again in 2016 as a wild-card team, 2014 was their year of the pitcher.