TORONTO — Craig Gentry is in a position in which his mistakes get magnified more than his successes do. And while, of late, the veteran outfielder has become a late-inning substitution off the bench, his role has actually become more important as the Orioles have suddenly embraced the notion of being a small-ball team willing to do the little things to win close games.
Some might still be stinging from Gentry’s base-running gaffe May 30, when his aggressiveness on the bases ran the Orioles out of a potential rally in the ninth inning in a two-run loss to the Washington Nationals. But manager Buck Showalter would rather highlight Gentry’s prominent role in the Orioles’ 1-0 win over the Mets on Wednesday.
In a scoreless game, Gentry entered as a pinch runner after Pedro Álvarez’s eighth-inning leadoff single, stole second, advanced to third on Adam Jones’ one-out single, then scored on Manny Machado’s sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the ninth, he cut off Todd Frazier’s leadoff single to right field, keeping the potential tying run from starting the inning in scoring position and allowing reliever Brad Brach to close out the game with less pressure in the final frame.
“You can make a case that other than [starting pitcher Dylan] Bundy, he was the difference,” Showalter said of Gentry. “The ball he cut off in the ninth inning, not many right fielders cut that off. And [players like him] make other teams change the pace at which they do things. That have to adjust to something he brings. OK, you want to stretch that single into a double? Well you can’t do it. He’s got arm strength. He can defend. He can bunt, and he can steal a base.”
Showalter knew Gentry’s speed would play well in the eighth against reliever Jeurys Familia, and after four pitches, Gentry found his spot to swipe second, putting the pressure on Familia in a scoreless game.
“You want to help the team win, but at the end of the day, you know you’ve got to be smart,” Gentry said. “[On Wednesday], worked out great. I was able to get a good read on the pitcher and get to second. It was just a perfect way to turn out. And against the Nationals the last time, it wasn’t. But that’s the way you have to look at the game. You’ve got to let those things go and keep pushing.”
The reward was Gentry receiving his first start in 10 days in Thursday night’s series opener against the Blue Jays in Toronto. His previous four appearances came as a late-inning replacement in the eighth or ninth inning.
“It’s definitely been tough not knowing when you’re going to get your name called or have a chance to get into the game, stuff like that,” Gentry said. “It’s tough, but you’ve just got to keep it simple and, I think there are times where I’ve gone in there and tried to do too much. I just need to trust myself and trust my eyes and just play my game, to be honest with you, not try to force anything. I think there are definitely times when I do that. But yeah, it’s definitely tough.”
A career .263 hitter against left-handed pitching, Gentry has hit just .200 against lefties this season. For the first six weeks of the season, switch-hitting Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander received a majority of the time in right before he could be optioned to the minors. Since then, Joey Rickard has eaten into Gentry’s playing time, so at-bats have been hard to come by. Over the past month, he’s started just eight of 22 games, receiving just 35 plate appearances over that time, though he’s put up a solid .300 batting average over that stretch.
“It’s tough to face big league pitching every day, let alone once or twice every week and then to get into a game situation, but like I said, you have to keep it simple and maybe not be too hard on yourself sometimes,” Gentry said. “I think we all want to succeed, but it’s definitely tough to succeed here every day, especially when you’re not playing or not getting a whole lot of at-bats. You just got to go out there when your name’s called and keep working and hopefully you can do something to help the team win that day.”
That’s what he was trying to do last week against the Nationals. With the Orioles trailing 2-0 and desperate to get anything going offensively, Gentry — who opened the inning as a pinch-hitter — and Jones hit back-to-back singles to put the tying run as first and Manny Machado at the plate.
But before Machado could see a pitch, Gentry was hung up between second and third by Nationals left-hander Sean Doolittle, erasing the lead runner and killing the momentum of the inning.
“I think in that game, we were down by two runs with guys on first and second and I was thinking, ‘Hey if they’re going to give it to me, I’m going to steal here, Jonesy gets to second, they walk Manny and we’ve got the winning run on with no one out. It’s perfect,’ ” Gentry said. “It just came back to bite me.
“I don’t think it was necessarily a bad thing, it was just the wrong time to do it. If I had stolen the base and it worked out, we wouldn’t be talking about it. Maybe I was trying too hard, I don’t know, but there’s definitely a reason there. I wasn’t out there trying to do something that wasn’t there, but you’ve got to be smart in this game and know the difference between winning and losing can be a fine line there.”
Showalter rushed to Gentry’s defense after that game, and he realizes Gentry’s role as an important one. The Orioles don’t run much, but as this team struggles offensively, extending the game in 90-foot increments is increasingly important. The Orioles are tied for 26th in the majors with 19 stolen bases, and Gentry has eight of those. And while last week’s miscue was fatal, it was one of just two times he has been thrown out on the bases.
“Anytime you can make the other team have to adjust something — if you can bring one big tool — it can tilt the field,” Showalter said. “They’ve got to do something to retilt it, whether it [forcing a pitcher to] be really quick to the plate.”