A left-handed closer, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, is a "Utopian closer," and he believes so for a variety of reasons.
"That Utopian closer is left-handed, because those guys negate the left-handed bats late in the game that come off the bench, a lot of these ballparks are left-handed friendly, it holds runners — it does a lot of great things to have a left-handed closer," he said before Wednesday's game.
His own Utopian closer, Zach Britton, just hours after his manager praised his growth into the role over the last two-plus seasons at length, clinched a lot of great things on his own in Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers.
Britton's 33rd save in as many chances to begin the season represented the longest season-opening save streak by a left-handed pitcher in baseball history, passing Detroit Tigers lefty Willie Hernandez's mark of 32 in 1984, according to STATS, LLC. It also tied him for the seventh-longest saves streak in baseball history to start a season, and gave him 106 career saves, which is the most by an Orioles left-handed closer.
Such qualifiers on handedness might put Britton into the world's thickest record book, but Showalter doesn't need to distinguish by which hand he throws with.
"He just doesn't give in," Showalter said. "He knows who he is. There's always a debate [for best closer], and you can throw four or five guys in the same hat, I'm sure, but there's nobody out there better than him."
The record came on a night when the fickle nature of relief pitching, and the save statistic in general, came into focus. Britton's sinker was a touch heavy throughout the ninth, with third baseman Adrian Beltre working a 3-1 count before grounding out to open the inning and second baseman Rougned Odor working an eight-pitch walk to represent the game's tying run.
With the count already 2-0 against catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Britton buried a sinker for a swinging strike that leaked away from his own backstop, Matt Wieters. Wieters tracked it down and threw out Odor, and Lucroy was soon retired.
Britton has now 1.45 ERA as a reliever over the course of his career, with Showalter noting just how quickly the lefty has thrived in the role since taking it over early in 2014.
"I don't think I've seen too many guys take to it that quickly," Showalter said. "I think he's learned about little things like last night, knowing that if we score a run he's not in the game; giving an honest evaluation about where he is physically and everything; saving his bullets. He's worked hard on his breaking ball for strikes, because there's going to be some nights on that third time out there where he's going to probably need to go to a secondary pitch. … Kind of knowing who he is — and he never gives in."