Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been the lightning rod for criticism after his team was knocked out of the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday with closer Zach Britton — the best reliever in baseball this season — never making an appearance. After the game, Showalter said “Zach Britton was fine,” making it even more puzzling that the lefty never made his way to the mound.
Showalter didn’t make much of a defense against the questions. It was odd coming from Showalter as he has in the past not been one to adhere to old school baseball orthodoxy, which says that managers shouldn’t use their closers in a tie game on the road. The thought goes that once your team takes a lead, you won’t have your closer to finish the game. Obviously, the flaw in that logic is you may lose the game before you ever get a lead and your closer will be sitting on the bench twiddling his thumbs. Which was what happened last night.
Earlier this year, on July 31, the Orioles were in Toronto for a game against the Blue Jays. The game was tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning — sound familiar? — and Showalter chose to bring in Zach Britton. Britton worked a perfect inning, then came out for the bottom of the 10th. He worked around a one-out walk and finished yet another scoreless inning. The O’s would take a 6-2 lead in the top of the 12th and would go on to win by that margin.
After the game, MASN broadcaster Gary Thorne asked Showalter, “Good two innings by Zach [Britton], huh?”
Showalter responded, “Yeah, he’d had five days off. Really, had a little something that we wanted to give him an extra day. So, we felt confident with him for two innings today. And, regardless of the score and what conventionality tells you, I’m putting my best pitcher out there on the field. Not gonna save him around for a close that may not happen.”
Showalter clearly knew better than to keep holding onto Britton, but he did anyway. That lends a lot of credence to Craig’s theory that Showalter wasn’t dumb; rather, he was just scared.