BALTIMORE - Darren O'Day's manager blames himself for causing the Orioles relief pitcher's only poor stretch this season.
Buck Showalter played a role in pranking O'Day as part of a video skit for MLB.com when Baltimore visited New York for an interleague series against the Mets. Soon after, O'Day suffered a rough outing against Los Angeles and blown save against Cleveland in a three-day stretch. O'Day, who was 5-0 with an ERA under 2.00 in late June, found himself in a slump as the All-Star break approached.
Whether the stunt was a hindrance to O'Day's performance is up for debate. What's clear is how vital the right-handed relief pitcher has been to the team's success.
Baltimore's bullpen is a big reason why the club reached the postseason and won the wild-card game to advance to the AL Division Series against New York. And O'Day, in all his side-arming glory, has thrived in his role.
Showalter credited O'Day and pitching coach Rick Adair for getting together during the break to work on mechanics and figure out how to approach left-handed hitters. What emerged was the same O'Day who was so dominant in the early months of the season.
"He's been rock-solid from Day One," Showalter said. "Darren just gives himself a chance to have success. He's learned how to defend himself against left-handed hitters, and that's unusual with a guy with his arm angle."
O'Day was 7-1 with a 2,28 ERA in 69 games during the regular season, setting a career high in victories (second most among AL relievers). He collected 69 strikeouts in 67 innings and held opposing hitters to a .202 average.
Right-handers batted .200 against O'Day this season; lefties didn't fare much better at .207.
On Oct. 2 in Tampa Bay, O'Day tossed a scoreless inning of relief and the Orioles won 1-0. Three days later, in the wild-card game at Texas, O'Day pitched two scoreless frames in Baltimore's 5-1 win.
Sunday night against the Yankees, O'Day entered the game in the seventh inning with two runners on and no outs. He came on to face Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, and Alex Rodriguez, with the game tied at 2-2.
O'Day made sure the core stayed that way - he retired Jeter on a sacrifice, got a force-out at home on Ichiro's fielder's choice, and struck out Rodiguez swinging to send the Camden Yards into delirium.
"It's exciting. I've come to enjoy those situations," O'Day said after Sunday's game, a 7-2 Yankees win thanks to five runs in the ninth inning. "I've had quite a few of them this year. As a middle reliever, that's kind of what you can take pride in, when you strand inherited runners and get out of situations like that. Those hitters, yeah, that's three Hall of Famers. I was very excited to get through that."
He came in for Game 2 starter Wei-Yin Chen in the seventh inning, again to face Rodriguez, with the Orioles ahead 3-2. New York had the tying run on base with one out, but O'Day struck out A-Rod and left with the fans cheering his name.
Showalter praised O'Day for his versatility, a unique trait given his history of situational outings. And O'Day returned the favor by talking about how well Showalter uses his bullpen, so as not to tire anybody out. In fact, O'Day said he's ready to go for as long as the Orioles stay alive in the postseason.
"If I feel good, I'm going to pitch," O'Day said. "No off days now."