The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card game Tuesday night with a walk-off home run from Edwin Encarnacion in the bottom of the 11th inning.
The Blue Jays will now head to Texas to play the Rangers, while the Orioles will retreat home for the long offseason.
For the Orioles, there’s still the lingering question of why, in extra innings in a must-win game, manager Buck Showalter didn’t use perhaps the best reliever in baseball, Zach Britton.
The 28-year-old lefty went 47 of 47 in saves this year, with a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. He hadn’t allowed an earned run since April. Yet, Showalter used six relievers, and though Britton warmed up in the bullpen, he was never used in the game.
Showalter said after the game, “There’s a bunch of decisions to make there during the course of the game. Our pitchers pitched real well the whole game to hold that club to two runs at that point. You could make a case, probably other than Zach, Ubaldo [Jimenez] is pitching better than anybody we’ve had for the last six or seven starts.”
Showalter continued, saying that, essentially, he was hoping to reserve Britton as the game continued into extra innings:
“Those are a lot of tough decisions, but we’re maybe a little different if you’re playing at home. There’s a lot of different ways to look at it. If we didn’t have so many good options down there and we wanted to have a strong Zach and have him in there in case the game goes extra innings. There’s so much more to that game. But I know the world that you have to live in. So I respect that.”
Regardless, there were plenty of opportunities to turn to Britton. In the bottom of the ninth, with two runners on, the game tied at 2-2, Showalter relieved Brad Brach with Darren O’Day, who got the third out of the inning, forcing extras. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, Showalter continued to baffle, using reliever Brian Duensing, then turning to Jimenez later on.
Though Showalter suggested he was trying to save Britton, lest he be called upon to pitch several innings, Britton said after the game that he had been told to be prepared to go more than one inning.
“I was expecting in certain situations if maybe there’s an opportunity for a double-play ball in a big situation, whether or not we were ahead, behind, whatever,” Britton said. “Coming into today, they just told me to be ready to go, multiple innings if need be. I was prepared.” Britton said he was “frustrated” about not getting in the game.
Instead, the Orioles never turned to their star reliever, and in the bottom of the 11th, Encarnacion hit the game-winning home run.
In a win-or-go-home game, it’s baffling that Showalter was trying to put off using Britton. Showalter said after the game, it’s easy to begin regretting his decisions. He now has until the spring to think about why he didn’t use Britton in the biggest game of the season.
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