The question that is on everybody’s mind as the Blue Jays walked off 5-2 winners in Tuesday’s American League Wild Card game against the Orioles: Where was Zach Britton? The best reliever in baseball was noticeably absent in the ninth inning, the 10th inning, and the 11th and final inning.
After Brad Brach and Darren O'Day slithered out of danger in the 10th inning, O’s manager Buck Showalter sent lefty Brian Duensing to the mound to start the bottom of the 11th inning. Duensing struck out Ezequiel Carrera, then was replaced by Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez had some good starts down the stretch, but he’s a starter by trade, not a reliever. And he’s not Britton. Somewhat predictably, the Jays rallied, putting runners on first and third base thanks to consecutive singles by Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson, bringing Edwin Encarnacion to the plate. Still, no Britton. Encarnacion swung at a first-pitch fastball from Jimenez and absolutely obliterated it to send the Blue Jays to the ALDS with a 5-2 win.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman‘s velocity was noticeably down, sitting in the high 80’s and only occasionally getting above 90 MPH. Still, the Blue Jays only managed two runs in his 4 1/3 innings. The first run came on a Jose Bautista solo homer in the second inning and the Jays tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning on an Ezequiel Carrera RBI single to center field. Tillman finished having allowed the two runs on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts on 74 pitches.
Jays starter Stroman didn’t appear to have the best command but he didn’t walk any batters and yielded his two runs on a two-run home run to Mark Trumbo in the fourth inning. It was a home run that registered as Trumbo’s weakest homer in the Statcast era. Stroman left after six innings, yielding the two runs on six hits with six strikeouts on 81 pitches.
From there, it was a battle of the bullpens. The Jays’ bullpen tossed five hitless innings, yielding only one walk while striking out six. The O’s bullpen was nearly as good until Jimenez came into the game, pitching 5 2/3 innings, allowing only three base runners, including one on an intentional walk, while striking out seven.
Encarnacion’s home run will be replayed for years to come, but reporters are scrambling to find out why Britton never made an appearance. There is, perhaps, a possibility he hurt himself warming up in the eighth inning. We’ll pass along any information that comes out of Toronto.
The Jays will open up the ALDS in Texas to face the Rangers. Game 1 starts at 4:30 PM EDT on Thursday, October 6.