Never was the importance of an out more obvious.
In the process of accepting a 9-7 gift from the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday, the Orioles enjoyed the luxury of two extra outs in the ninth inning. Either would've been the difference between a routine win or a devastating loss for the Blue Jays.
One more out.
It didn't necessarily have to come in the ninth inning either. As he replayed the game, which he must've done more than a few times last night, Toronto manager Cito Gaston had to wonder what might have happened had he let his starting pitcher try to get one more out an inning earlier.
You'll recall the Blue Jays opened that inning with a 7-0 lead. They should've been able to mail in the result with that kind of lead. But that's when the "Little Demper" came to the Orioles' rescue.
Greg Zaun wasn't even on the field when the game ended, but it was the rookie catcher who gave the Orioles their chance to win. It boggles the imagination to suggest that a two-run homer that reduced the deficit to five runs could be the game's key play.
But it was, though maybe for all the wrong reasons. Woody Williams was making his first major-league start for the Blue Jays, so naturally he never had pitched eight consecutive innings in the big leagues.
In an age of specialization, that became the focus of the game. Even as the Blue Jays' lead was growing, and the Orioles were giving little evidence of anything remotely offensive, speculation mounted as to when Williams would run out of arm strength.
As long as the Orioles were adding to their string of zeroes, however, the chances of Williams' making a premature departure were nil. It's difficult to improve on a shutout, and with a seven-run lead, there was no reason to even consider a pitching change.
But Zaun's home run changed all of that. As soon as the Orioles put runs on the board, Williams was done.
After Zaun's home run, Williams pitched to one more batter -- getting Curtis Goodwin out on an infield grounder. He needed one more out to complete the eighth inning, but Gaston saw something he didn't like and picked that spot to make his first move of the day.
Williams had gone 7 2/3 innings and thrown the modest total of 105 pitches. One more out would've gotten the Blue Jays to the ninth inning without testing the arson squad working out of the bullpen.
In 20/20 hindsight, one more out from Williams, another four or five pitches, perhaps only one, possibly would've been enough for the Blue Jays to survive the impending disaster. And, had his shutout still been intact, Williams certainly would've opened the ninth inning.
Shutouts have a way of negating pitch counts moreso than a five-run lead. When you're three outs away from a win with a five-run lead, any major-league team should be able to win.
In Toronto, the two errors committed by the Blue Jays in the ninth inning are justifiably blamed for the ugly loss. However, from the Orioles' standpoint, it was the seemingly harmless home run by Zaun that triggered the dramatic comeback win.