Showalter erred by not using Britton, but that's not only reason Orioles lost wild-card game

Buck Showalter pushed the wrong button in the 11th, but he doesn't deserve all the blame for wild-card loss.

The national narrative that developed after the Orioles' dramatic loss in Tuesday night's wild-card game was what the late, great broadcaster Howard Cosell liked to call "a piercing look into the obvious."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter lost his magic touch at just the wrong moment — when God and a national television audience was watching.

Let's all agree that, knowing what we know now, Zach Britton should have been warming up in the 11th inning when Ubaldo Jimenez came in and gave up two singles and the walk-off homer by Edwin Encarnacion that sent the Orioles home and the Toronto Blue Jays into the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.

That's easy enough to see in hindsight, especially when there were runners at first and third base with one out and Britton is a double-play-inducing machine. It was certainly easy fodder for the TBS postgame crew, one member of which called Showalter's decision to not use Britton the worst postseason managerial decision he'd ever seen.

Never mind that Showalter had managed his bullpen masterfully from the time he took starter Chris Tillman out of the game after just 4 1/3 innings. He had pushed every right button until Jimenez's late-season hot streak ran stone cold at the worst possible moment.

During the last four days of the Orioles' season, Showalter had made two questionable decisions that backfired badly. He left starter Wade Miley in too long in Saturday's game against the New York Yankees, which contributed to a loss that might have prevented the Orioles from playing at home Tuesday night, and now this.

Obviously, Orioles fans are terribly disappointed, as are Showalter and an Orioles team that fought hard and overcame much to get to the playoffs for the third time in five years. If you're starting to doubt his managerial acumen, keep in mind that almost all the geniuses that overanalyze this sport predicted the Orioles would fall on their face in every one of those five seasons.

Now, let's all calm down and look at what really happened Tuesday night. The game was not lost in the bottom of the 11th inning. It was lost during the previous 10½ frames, when the supposedly high-powered Orioles managed just two runs on four hits against a starting pitcher who had a 7.04 ERA against them during the regular season and an injury-riddled Jays bullpen. The Orioles had not had a hit since the sixth inning and didn't look like they would ever get one against starter-turned-emergency-long-reliever Francisco Liriano, who had come on after closer Roberto Osuna injured his shoulder.

That's why Showalter went to Jimenez instead of Britton to start the 11th, because he had to figure that — at best — the game was going to continue for a while, and he needed both the innings Jimenez could provide and a closer if the Orioles managed to scratch something out against Liriano.

Since he had warmed up Britton once earlier in the game, he obviously was reluctant to get him up to cover the 11th just in case Jimenez flamed out. When Jimenez did just that, he did it so quickly (he threw just five pitches) there was no time to get Britton ready to face Encarnacion.

No doubt, a lot of Orioles fans cringed when Showalter went to Jimenez in the first place, because of all that has happened during his star-crossed Orioles' career. But he was the club's hottest starting pitcher over the final month of the season and he had dominated the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre last Thursday night.

It might be logical to believe Britton would have gotten through the 11th and given the heart of the Orioles batting order another shot at Liriano. But if that logic is based on the fact that Britton was the best option to extend the game at that point — and there was no tomorrow — then Showalter made the same mistake when he didn't go to him in a similar ninth-inning jam or at the start the 10th.

He went with Darren O'Day in those situations, even though the right-hander had spent much of the season on the disabled list, pitched just four times in September and finished the regular season with an uncharacteristic 3.77 ERA. If O'Day had given up a home run to Russell Martin instead of inducing an inning-ending double play in the ninth or allowed a game-winning homer to Troy Tulowitzki or Justin Smoak in the 10th, Showalter still would have been grilled on the whereabouts of his potential Cy Young closer.

The big elephant in the batter's box is the fact that the Orioles and all their offensive firepower managed to score more than three runs in just four of their final 16 games. This lineup is composed largely of overly aggressive power hitters with an all-or-nothing approach at the plate.

They managed one big swing in 11 innings Tuesday, leaving Showalter to keep rolling his magic bullpen dice until he finally crapped out.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
79°