Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
It’s difficult to believe that George Santayana was thinking about the baseball playoffs when he wrote these famous words in 1905, though they certainly apply.
Buck Showalter managed the Orioles out of the postseason Tuesday night, watching his team drop a 5-2 decision to the Blue Jays when Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run homer off Ubaldo Jimenez in the bottom of the 11th inning while Zach Britton – the league’s best reliever this season – sat unused in the bullpen.
As I watched Jimenez warming up, I texted a friend of mine.
“Is Buck really going to get eliminated without using Britton at all? This game is over. Donaldson home run coming up.”
I was off by one batter, but that wasn’t the point.
Before Encarnacion took his big game-ending swing, all I could think of was the 2003 World Series. The Yankees had a 2-1 series lead against the Marlins, and after tying the game in the ninth on Ruben Sierra’s two-run triple, the game moved into extra innings.
Jose Contreras pitched the ninth and 10th, then Joe Torre brought in Jeff Weaver to start the 11th, not wanting to use Mariano Rivera on the road until the Yankees had a lead.
Weaver – who had a 5.99 ERA that season – pitched a perfect 11th, but Alex Gonzalez hit a game-winning homer to open the 12th, evening the series. The Yankees, of course, went on to lose in six games.
Who knows whether it would have been any different had Rivera pitched in the game? He might have moved the game to the 13th or 14th, at which point Weaver might have given it up. We’ll never know.
The same goes for Showalter. Bringing in Britton didn’t guarantee a win for the Orioles, but if the closer had been able to get through the heart of the Toronto lineup, Baltimore’s lineup – which has some firepower of its own – might have scored against Francisco Liriano.
If not, at least Showalter wouldn’t have had his biggest bullet still sitting in the chamber as the Blue Jays celebrated at home plate.
Showalter had already gotten away with his decisions to use Darren O’Day and Brian Duensing ahead of Britton, but when he called on Jimenez – he of the 5.44 ERA and 1.560 WHIP this season – it simply made no sense. Not with the top of Toronto’s lineup coming up.
Sure, Jimenez pitched better in September, posting a 2.31 ERA in five starts. But Britton hadn’t allowed a run in 14 appearances since August 28, part of a season that saw the closer go 47-of-47 in save opportunities with a 0.54 ERA in 69 outings.
Hopefully the next manager in this spot will think of Torre and Showalter. In an elimination game, the goal is simply to get to the next inning and give your offense a chance. Britton was Baltimore’s best shot at that in the 11th inning, but all he could do was watch.
Showalter makes the same mistake Joe Torre made in the 2003 World Series.
(Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)
“It was really tough,” Britton told MLB Network after the game. “Obviously you want to contribute to the team, especially in a game like this.”
“It’s not my call. It’s just tough to sit down there, wanting to get in the game. … If I’m the best guy for that inning, I want to be out there. … I was ready to go.”
Showalter, of course, was testy during his postgame press conference. Britton’s night off was predictably the primary topic of conversation, though the manager seemed surprised people were even asking him about the decision.
Here were some of his answers:
“I liked the job that Darren could do, I liked the job that Brad (Brach) could do, I liked the job that Mychal (Givens) could do, I liked the job that Duensing could do. It looked like it was going to be one of those that was more than one inning. Nobody has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo, too. So there’s a lot of different ways to look at it, so that’s the way we went. It didn’t work out. Has nothing to do with philosophical.”
“Playing on the road has a little something to do with it, too. But we have some good options that have done a great job for us all year, and Zach’s one of those.”
“Sure, (using Britton) crosses your mind from about the sixth inning on. So 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 is pitching better than anybody we’ve had for the last six or seven starts. Those are a lot of tough decisions, but we’re maybe a little different if you’re playing at home.”
Toward the end of his press conference, a well-respected baseball writer tried to ask Showalter again about his baffling decision, leading to this tense exchange:
Writer: “I’m sorry to harp on this…”
Showalter: “Are you really?”
Writer: “Well, I just don’t understand it.”
Showalter: “We can talk about it privately. I’ll let you know everything I’m thinking. I understand you’ve got to ask your question. It’s OK.”
I got the feeling that Showalter knew he screwed up, but there was no way he was going to admit it.
Look at the bright side. At least Britton will be well-rested for spring training.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News