By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:30 AM EDT, July 3, 2014
With his teammates killing time inside the clubhouse during a 1-hour, 38-minute rain delay Wednesday night, Orioles closer Zach Britton remained in the bullpen, waiting out the weather for his opportunity to close out a 6-4 win over the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards.
Britton had just started warming up in the bottom of the eighth when the game was delayed with the Orioles needing just three outs for the victory.
Instead of staying dry -- and cool -- inside the Orioles clubhouse, Britton remained in the bullpen beyond the left-center field fence with bullpen coach Dom Chiti and bullpen catcher Jett Ruiz.
“It’s warm out there, it’s cold in here,” Britton said. “I didn’t want to get tightened up or anything. I thought the heat was better for me. I wanted to keep my mind focused on pitching. If the game got banged, they would call down for us. You’re just kind of hanging out down there joking around with Dom and Jett and making sure my mind was in the game.
“I didn’t want to come in [the clubhouse] where guys are playing cards and kind of hanging out and not always straight focused on the game,” Britton said. “I just wanted to make sure I was ready because I didn’t want to come into the game and not be my best. That’s the most important thing. If the game’s over, it’s over, but I wanted to stay engaged in the game because that’s most important.”
It was a long wait, including a span when it stopped raining entirely before the storms got stronger once again. But once play resumed, Britton was sharp.
“Dom keeps it loose, even during the game,” Britton said. “I don’t even know what we were talking about down there. Just his past experiences in baseball, offseason what are we doing, so we’re keeping it loose. But at the same time, he makes sure you’re good and ready to go. And once we saw them moving the tarp, he was like, ‘It’s game time. Get ready to go.’ ”
Pounding the bottom part of the strike zone with his heavy mid-90s sinker, Britton needed just 10 pitches to record his 11th save in 13 opportunities, retiring the Rangers in order. He retired Shin-Soo Choo on one pitch, inducing a pop-up for the first out of the inning and then recording two strikeouts, getting Elvis Andrus swinging and pinch-hitter Adam Rosales looking, to end the game.
“I thought the job Zach did there, I can't tell you how hard it is to come in with that change in the environment and come in and pitch as well as he did,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I know he and Dom stayed out in the bullpen the whole time. Sometimes, you come in here and you get the environment of guys trying to eat a little something and you don't know when you're going to start again. You get in that kind of, 'let your guard down' mode, and Zach came in like ... That was really impressive. That was one of the more impressive things I've seen, to be able to bring that intensity into a game like that.”
With the outing, Britton has not allowed a run in 20 consecutive relief appearances at Camden Yards over a span of 28 1/3 innings. He has 23 strikeouts with seven walks and just 14 hits over that time.
“I don’t feel any better here than on the road,” Britton said. “I think on the road I had a couple games when I’ve given up some runs. I think the game in New York was maybe the first time I gave up multiple runs, so I don’t think it’s anything specific. I’ve felt comfortable on the mound anywhere this year. It’s one of those weird things.”
But Britton hasn’t been alone.
Over the past three games against Texas, the Orioles bullpen has allowed just one run in 8 1/3 innings. With the exception of Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays -- in which the bullpen gave up nine runs -- Orioles relievers have allowed just two runs in their last 38 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Brad Brach, who was the winning pitcher, recorded his fifth consecutive scoreless outing with 1 1/3 innings. He has allowed just two hits over that span of five relief innings.
“The whole group, I was real proud of them tonight,” Showalter said. “Got down 4-0. I thought Brach was big again. He's very quietly been a real solid contributor to us since he came back to us this last time."
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