Baltimore’s World Series dreams officially died with Edwin Encarnacion’s mammoth walk-off home run. The cause of death is clear: blunt force trauma to the baseball. It’s the why that will haunt Orioles fans.
Why was the ball in Ubaldo Jimenez’s possession when Zach Britton, perhaps the most effective arm in all of baseball, watched from afar in the comfort of a single-wear hoodie? How does Buck Showalter leave his largest-caliber bullet in the chamber with so much on the line?
One does not need Showalter’s baseball acumen to understand the basic premise of going down swinging with your best players. His inability to get Britton into the game was a mistake so glaring many thought there must be some previously undisclosed injury nagging the southpaw closer.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Both Britton and Showalter dismissed the notion postgame. The man with the golden sinker was chomping at the bit, ready to go.
The damning truth is that Britton was able to help his team. Showalter simply never gave him the opportunity despite repeated chances to do so.
Not in the ninth, when Toronto put men on first and second with no outs before a strikeout and double play bailed out the O’s. Not in the 10th and not in the 11th, even after the Blue Jays rapped out two base-hits to put the game-winning (and season-ending) run 90 feet from home plate.
Showalter’s explanation, simplified, is that he was saving Britton for later. Instead of pressing the right and obvious button, he chose to keep touching a warming stove until it was hot enough to burn his hand.
“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.”
To be fair, Jimenez has pitched well of late. He’d also made just 7 of his 299 Major League appearances before last night out of the bullpen. Britton, on the other hand, had allowed one earned run since April 30. No one on any planet has been pitching better than Britton — not even a man with a 5.44 ERA operating in a foreign spot.
In the immediate aftermath, Showalter stood by his decision.
“I liked the job that Darren could do,” Showalter said. “I liked the job that Brad could do. I liked the job that Mychal could do. I liked the job that Duensing could do. Nobody has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo, too, so there are a lot of different ways to look at it.
“That’s the way we went. It didn’t work out. It has nothing to do with ‘philosophical.'”
With the world watching, Baltimore’s manager zigged when everyone thought he should zag. It’s not entirely surprising to see him defend the zig with fatalism. Such a statement papers over the fact he had ability to change that fate by doing the obvious and going with Britton.
Showalter did not break the emergency glass as the fire raged around him. He didn’t want to use the extinguisher to fight the present disaster at the expense of a potential future one.
He didn’t just burn himself. He burned his team and a fanbase. The resulting scars won’t soon heal.