Orioles closer Zach Britton, who on Saturday suffered a sprained left ankle, improbably returned to game action Thursday to earn his second win of the season in a 1-0, 10-inning victory over the New York Yankees.
Earlier in the day, he had tested the ankle with fielding drills for the first time this week, and threw a second bullpen in as many days. The team determined he was available, and he came into the game in a crucial spot with a runner on and two outs in the ninth inning of a scoreless game.
“It’s tough because we don’t know for sure what we’re going to get,” manager Buck Showalter said.
“I felt good throwing that side session today,” Britton said. “Felt pretty good fielding the position, so I told Buck I was good if you needed me to pitch today. I was available. He said if we had a chance to win the game, I was going to be in there.”
That time came in the ninth inning, when after eight sterling innings from starter Kevin Gausman, reliever Darren O’Day allowed a two-out base hit in the ninth inning to Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro.
Britton came on to face slugging Yankees catcher Brian McCann, and had something of an ignominious return when his first pitch was a wild pitch in the dirt to allow Castro to go to second.
“I was trying to get an inning out of Darren before we had to go there,” Showalter said.
Britton only got out of the inning after catcher Matt Wieters back-picked Castro at second base when he wandered a little too far from the base for his secondary lead.
“He had four days off, and I think one of the biggest plays of the game was Matt picking off [Castro] at second,” Showalter said. “That got Zach into the [dugout]. … ‘I got out of the inning, however it happened.’
“I thought that kind of picked up his confidence a little bit. Not his confidence, just the anxiety he might have had about how he was going to do with the ankle, so that was a big threshold to cross over. See how he feels tomorrow.”
Britton returned to the mound in the 10th inning. After a four-pitch walk to McCann opened the 10th, Britton struck out Mark Teixeira, designated hitter Carlos Beltran and right fielder Dustin Ackley. He threw 23 pitches, 11 of which were strikes.
“I felt pretty good,” Britton said. “Command was a little bit everywhere, but I had almost a week off, I think, so just tried to find a way. Ended up going into a slide step with [Brett] Gardner on, I think that kind of got me back on track a little bit, just kind of stop thinking about physically how I was feeling. I think with McCann in there I was trying to feel my way through a little bit rather than just focusing on making good pitches. So I was happy I was able to settle down.”