Rarely will you see Buck Showalter as agitated as he appeared after the Orioles’ 6-4 extra-inning loss to the New York Yankees last night at Camden Yards.
You couldn’t blame the Orioles manager for being in a less-than-sunny mood, either.
His team had just lost its season-high sixth straight game -- with all six coming at Camden Yards. (Showalter particularly hates losing at home, considering it a slap in the face to fans who’ve bought tickets and might have traveled long distances to get to the ballpark.).
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His closer, the normally-reliable Jim Johnson, had just blown his third save in a row and TV cameras had captured the usually-stoic Johnson cursing himself and looking shaken after surrendering Travis Hafner’s game-tying homer in the 10th.
And Showalter had had another rough go-around with the umpires -- in this case, first base umpire Eric Cooper. Cooper blew two calls in the sixth inning, when Matt Wieters’ pickoff throw clearly nabbed Brett Gardner off first (Gardner was called safe) and when he Cooper ruled Wieters out after he obviously beat out a slow roller to third base in the bottom of the inning.
(And you don’t think expanded replay review is right around the corner? All these blown calls and umpire controversies are killing the game right now.).
So... not a fun night for Showalter.
A win tonight in the second game of the series with the Yankees would go a long way to improving Showalter’s mood. So would a no-drama save and a return to form from Johnson.
Showalter made it clear he’s sticking with Johnson as his closer, and will run him out there if it’s a save situation tonight. And that’s the right decision -- at least for now.
Johnson has 72 saves in the past year and a half for the Orioles, and his track record suggests he’ll come out of this funk that he’s in. And he had run up a remarkable 35 straight converted save opportunities in the regular season since last July before things started to unravel a few days ago.
But another blown save or two in the next few days will force Showalter to reassess. If Johnson’s sinker keeps failing to sink -- and that pitch Hafner drove into the seats was a classic sinkerball that ran instead of sinking -- Showalter will have to sit his closer down to clear his head and work on his pitches.
It would be a tough decision -- and it definitely wouldn’t be great for Johnson’s confidence -- but that’s literally why they pay Showalter the big bucks. The team always comes first, certainly before any worries about an individual player’s psyche.
Jim Johnson knows that. So does Showalter. And the manager’s track record suggests he’ll make the right decision on the matter, too.