NEW YORK — To say Zach Britton has been tremendous this season as the club’s closer would be an understatement.
He was 9-for-10 in save chances since taking over from Tommy Hunter and picking up his first save May 15 in Kansas City.
Before Friday, his only blown save came May 27 in Milwaukee, when he allowed a two-out single to Jonathan Lucroy in a one-run game in the ninth. The Orioles eventually lost in 10 innings when Brewers pitcher-pinch-hitter Yovani Gallardo hit a walk-off double against T.J. McFarland.
That RBI to Lucroy was the only run Britton had allowed as a closer before Friday night. That’s one earned run in 16 1/3 innings spanning 14 appearances.
Heck, consider that for the entire season -- when he was a middle reliever and setup man, too -- Britton had yielded just three earned runs in 37 2/3 innings.
He gave up that many in one swing last night: a three-run shot by Carlos Beltran with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to hand the New York Yankees a 5-3 victory.
Entering with a two-run lead, Britton was charged with three hits, one walk and four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
“You’re one good pitch away. Keeping the ball down, I can get out of that inning,” Britton said. “It was just kind of a fight, little bit of the balls running everywhere. I made the adjustments, just not when it really counted. That last pitch right there, [Beltran] is a good high-ball hitter when he is facing a lefty, and I kind of put it right where he could do some damage.”
The most unexpected thing about Britton’s blown save is that it came on a homer, atypical for a sinkerballer. It was just the second he has allowed this year; the other was to the Boston Red Sox's David Ross on Patriots' Day, April 21.
“The only way I am going to be successful is getting the ball down, and I wasn’t,” Britton said. “A couple of the hit balls were up a little bit. It’s all about making the adjustments and getting the ball down.”
But let’s face it: There is really nothing bizarre here. Britton blew a save. It happened in Yankee Stadium against a division rival on a homer, and so it stings a little more, perhaps. But it’s one night, one game, one true mistake.
“It could happen to anyone,” Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez said of Britton. “You can ask Mariano Rivera. He’s one of the best closers, and it definitely happened [to him]. [Britton] has been pitching great. It’s one of those games. We have to forget about it and come back tomorrow.”
That’s the key here. It’s the key for any closer learning his trade.
Can Britton come back the next time out and shut the door? He passed the test in May. And he says he’ll do it again.
“It’s frustrating, because these are games we want to win right now. But, yeah, you’ve got to turn the page,” Britton said. “It is the only thing you can do. You can’t just sit here and mope about it.”
Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter of Britton: “It’s not an easy job. And he’s been doing it at a very high level. And hopefully will again.”