Keeping up with a theme that has been consistent all year for the Orioles, the bullpen had another great game in relief of an unspectacular outing from a starting pitcher.
On Sunday, Tommy Hunter pitched a decent game, giving up three runs in five innings, but wasn’t great. No matter. Orioles manager Buck Showalter turned the game over to his bullpen in the sixth inning with the score tied at 3, and they didn’t allow a hit or a run the rest of the way.
“Those guys have been doing it all year,” Hunter said. “It's pretty fun to give them the ball and say, 'Here's the game, you guys go win it.' They've been doing it all year and they're going to continue to do it. They're pretty good back there.”
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Statistically speaking, Baltimore has the fourth-best bullpen in the majors by ERA, but the advantage of having reliable late-inning relievers has had a greater impact than ERA can explain.
The Orioles are 39-17 on the year in games decided by two runs or less, and are one game shy of the franchise record for consecutive wins in one-run games set in 1979 with 11.
Outfielder Nick Markakis, who tied the game in the fifth inning with a solo home run, thought the answer was pretty simple as to why the Orioles have been so good in close games.
“That's easy,” Markakis said. “The bullpen. The bullpen's been unbelievable all year. I don't think you could say we'd be in the position we are without them. They just keep going out and putting zeros for us and allowing us to score some runs late in the game. I think that's the big difference.”
It’s hard to gauge the confidence that having a standout bullpen brings to an offense, but individually, the stats stuck out Sunday.
Luis Ayala earned the win Sunday — he has a 1.80 ERA over his past 15 innings pitched. Troy Patton struck out two in his one perfect inning of relief — he has a 1.05 ERA in his last 27 appearances. Pedro Strop pitched a scoreless eight inning — he has made 16 straight scoreless appearances.
And the closer, Jim Jonson, pitched a perfect ninth for his 34th save of the season, putting him at second in the American League in saves.
So yes, it’s hard to quantify something like confidence, but the stats speak for themselves. Even when the starting pitching isn’t spectacular and only lasts five innings, the Orioles continue to have as good a chance as anyone in the late innings.