This year’s Orioles qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2016. That was the year that closer Zack Britton waited for the call that never came from manager Buck Showalter in the Orioles’ wild-card loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Britton told The Athletic that he was retiring, and absolved Showalter from blame for his failure to call on him.
That controversy was long ago, and with Britton gone, there are just two players remaining on major league rosters — Kevin Gausman and Manny Machado — who were among the 47 who played for the 2016 Orioles.
The Orioles are fortunate to have had two dominant relievers — Britton and Félix Bautista — over the past decade.
Britton had a wonderful three-year run, culminating in 2016 when he converted all 47 save opportunities with a hard-to-believe 0.54 earned-run average. He allowed just four earned runs, one home run and 38 hits in 67 innings.
Britton allowed just 5.1 hits per nine innings in 2015, and Bautista gave up only 4.4, striking out 46.4 percent of his hitters. Britton struck only 29 percent.
They achieved their success in much different ways. Britton had an unhittable sinker. Bautista has a 100-mph fastball, and devastating splitter.
Britton failed to come back to form after his Tommy John surgery. The Orioles are counting on Bautista’s return in 2025.
Entering the 2014 season, Britton’s place on the Orioles wasn’t assured. As a starter, he had a 4.86 ERA.
In a salary dump, the Orioles sent closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics because they didn’t want to sign him to a long-term contract and didn’t want to pay what turned out to be a $10 million contract in his final season before free agency.
Johnson, a favorite of Showalter’s, had 101 saves in the previous two seasons. The Orioles failed to sign a replacement. Grant Balfour, whom they decided could succeed Johnson, failed his physical and didn’t sign.
Instead, the Orioles began 2014 with Tommy Hunter as their closer but several weeks into the season, Showalter decided Britton would be the better choice.
He thrived in his new role with a 1.65 ERA and 37 saves as the Orioles cruised to the American League East title and reached the American League Championship Series.
In 2015, Britton had a 1.92 ERA and 36 saves. Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens made up a brilliant bullpen.
After Britton’s exceptional 2016 season, a left forearm strain in 2017 and a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in 2018 cost him time. At midseason, with the Orioles’ floundering, they traded Britton, Brach, O’Day, Gausman, Machado and Jonathan Schoop as the rebuilding began.
Britton was happy in New York after he was traded to the Yankees. The team was competitive and though he never again was a preeminent closer, he had three more years of postseasons, though he never got to the World Series.
His last major league appearance came against the Orioles on September 30th, 2022, a night when Aaron Judge was attempting to break the American League home run record.
Britton walked Jesús Aguilar, threw a wild pitch while Adley Rutschman was at the plate and was removed from the game.
He was one of the most genuine players I have covered, always ready to chat and offer insight. His 2016 season was so good that I voted for him as the Cy Young Award winner and was shocked that he received only five first-place votes and finished fourth in the balloting.
I hope he enjoys the rest of his life as much I enjoyed watching him and covering him.
Hall of Fame Ballot announced: The Hall of Fame ballot was announced on Monday, and there are 26 candidates. For Orioles fans looking for a connection, there isn’t much to offer.
Reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched in 23 games without a save in 2013, returns to the ballot. K-Rod received 10.8 percent of the vote in 2023.
First-timers are: Adrian Beltre, whose 3,000th hit came against the Orioles in 2017, José Bautista, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, Bartolo Colon, Matt Holliday, father of Orioles prospect Jackson, Adrian González, José Reyes, Victor Martinez, James Shields and Brandon Phillips.
Among those who were considered for the ballot but didn’t qualify were Jim Johnson and Chris Tillman.
Besides Rodriguez, returning candidates are: Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter.
For election, a candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes of 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Winners will be announced on January 23rd. Enshrinement in Cooperstown is on July 21st.