The Orioles ended their four-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory Thursday night in Kansas City. Perhaps more important, they held on to a one-run lead in the ninth (really, from the fifth to the ninth) for the win.
And when the need for a save arose in the ninth inning, left-hander Zach Britton got the call to try and close out a game for the first time in his professional career.
He did it with a 1-2-3 inning, getting three ground-ball outs on 12 pitches, all sinkerballs.
Meanwhile, previous closer Tommy Hunter remained in the bullpen, briefly warming up in the eighth but staying on the bench in the ninth.
After the game, Britton said he thinks there are plenty of candidates to pitch the ninth, but he said several times that he’s ready to do it whenever Hunter needs a break. Britton is not considering himself a closer at this point.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter wasn’t declaring Britton as his new closer, either, saying only that he’ll put in the best pitchers for the situation. He proved it by having setup man Darren O’Day enter in the sixth to help get Wei-Yin Chen out of a jam. It was the first time since last June that O’Day had entered that early.
Here are some quotes from Britton, Showalter and Chen.
Zach Britton on getting the save opportunity:
“It was definitely exciting. I think we are all prepared. No one knew who was going in. We’re just all prepared to do it and we have multiple guys that are capable of throwing that inning. It’s a matter of, I think, the matchups and whoever Buck wants to go with. We are all prepared for that inning, if called upon, whenever Tommy needs a break.”
Britton on when he realized he’d be in for the save:
“When Buck called down and said that I had that inning [before the top of the ninth]. I’ve done a lot of different things in the 'pen, so I just made sure I was ready for anything, from the fifth inning through the ninth. Just make sure I was prepared and in my same routine. But I had no idea it was going to be that opportunity for me today. Everyone is prepared to throw that inning when Tommy needs a break.”
Britton on the difficulty of pitching the ninth:
“I didn’t even think about it. To me, there were three outs. I tried not to treat them any different than any other outs I’ve gotten this year. Make sure I was attacking the zone. I didn’t want to put any more pressure on myself than I already do. Just make sure I’d be aggressive, throw the sinker and get ground balls.”
Britton on whether he considered it a particularly cool moment:
“It is. It is something that is different. People talk about throwing the ninth inning and what that feels like. It was a cool feeling. Like I said, there are so many guys capable. … When [Hunter] comes back and he is ready to go, we’ll do what we normally do, what we’ve been doing when he is closing.”
Britton on saving it for Chen, one of his best friends:
“It’s pretty cool. In the past, we haven’t seen Chen and then bring me in after. But it’s kind of cool. He got a lot of laughs out of it. But it’s just nice to be able to help the team in any situation, whatever role that may be.”
Chen, through interpreter Louis Chao, on the importance of the win:
“The ballclub was in a losing streak now, so I tried to not give myself too much pressure, but just to try and perform well to give the ballclub a chance to win. That’s what I tried to do.”
Chen on assessing his performance:
“Overall, it was good. It wasn’t the best, but the result was pretty good, so I’m happy about it.”
Chen on Britton getting the save:
“I was really happy that he got his first career save with [me] starting. But we both have the same goal. That is to help this club to win again. That’s still going to be our goal in the future.”
Chen on Danny Valencia’s long fly ball that was a sacrifice fly instead of a grand slam:
“Valencia … usually sees my fastball pretty well. So what I tried to do right there was keep the ball down. I think I threw a pretty good curveball there, but he hit it very well. From the moment when the ball left the bat, my heart skipped a beat. I thought it was going to go out.”
Showalter on the pitching:
“I actually think the job that Darren did and Chen was as important, if not more so [than Britton]. It was all part of trying to get to the 27th out. I thought Darren pitched as well as anyone tonight. I thought he was real sharp in a spot in the order where we needed to get some outs.”
Showalter on Nelson Cruz’s key two-run homer:
“You could have made some money tonight if you would have bet with me that somebody’s going to hit a ball out of here with it cold and windy and that kind of arm [on Yordano Ventura]. … That’s a big-old-boy home run, as they say. He’s been pretty solid.”
Showalter on whether Britton’s ninth inning lends any clarity to the closer situation:
“No, it’s the way it worked out tonight and it’ll require some imagination, and we’ll see where the health is. … It all is dictated off starting pitching. What will get lost in the shuffle is Wei-Yin held them to one run in five-plus innings. That’s not easy to do.”
Showalter on whether he’ll mix and match his ninth-inning pitchers:
“I’m not going to use ‘mix and match’ terminology. We’re gonna use whatever gives us the best chance to win, the best chance to put guys in the best spot to be successful and to be healthy. That’s the way we are looking at it.”