Orioles catcher Matt Wieters' go-ahead home run in the ninth inning of Saturday's 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim meant closer Zach Britton had to warm up quickly. The resulting ninth inning was one that saw Britton battle his command, and benefit from some controversy as a result.
Typically for Britton, long layoffs mean his sinker is thrown too hard to sink. He hadn't pitched since Wednesday, but the opposite was true Saturday. Everything seemed to be missing low, and he threw just eight of his 17 pitches for strikes.
The Angels took exception to two of those.
After Britton walked Angels shortstop Gregorio Petit on four pitches to open the inning, third baseman Yunel Escobar was punched out on a low 1-2 pitch that he thought was low. Escobar threw his helmet in disgust, and was ejected before he even left the batter's box.
The next batter, right fielder Kole Calhoun, worked the count full before pounding a 97-mph sinker at second baseman Jonathan Schoop for the second out of the inning, moving Petit to third base for MVP center fielder Mike Trout.
Trout took a sinker low to open the at-bat, then took a second that he believed was a ball. Home plate umpire Dale Scott called that one a strike as well, and Trout again disputed it. Britton hadn't gotten a called strike below the knees all season. Both of the ones he got Saturday were in question.
"Obviously, they weren't strikes," Trout said. "They definitely changed the game. … It should've been 2-0 in a big situation. I told him I thought it hit the dirt."
Trout grounded out on the next pitch to end the game, another sinker below the zone that this time he couldn't afford to watch.
"I didn't feel great," Britton said. "I got pretty fortunate. I feel like I made a good pitch to Calhoun to get him to ground out, but overall it just wasn't a great performance. But we got the win. [Wieters] came up big, did a good job back there hanging tough, especially with everything the way, for me especially, how the ball was moving everywhere for me today. He did a great job out there."
Britton said his problems were not related to the ankle sprain he suffered earlier this month.
"Sometimes, you get out there and things don't feel 100 percent," he said. "So just kind of throw that one away a little bit and get back if I get in the game tomorrow, be better."
Manager Buck Showalter said Britton was only out of the strike zone because of the hitters he faced.
"He just walked one guy, but some tough hitters there," Showalter said. "You get back around the top of the order … you're going to have to. He made some good pitches, got two ground balls and got us out of there."