Remember the 2016 AL wild card game between the visiting Orioles and home Blue Jays? It would go to extra innings, tied 2-2. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter inexplicably stuck with Ubaldo Jimenez against Edwin Encarnacion with one out and runners on first and third. Meantime, Zach Britton -- at the time the best closer in the league -- was in the bullpen. And then this happened:
The backlash was immediate (). In the regular season, Britton was 47 for 47 in saves with a 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 74 strikeouts against 15 unintentional walks in 67 innings that season. He built 4.2 WAR, which for a reliever is utterly incredible. Again, he was the best reliever in baseball. He watched his team lose from the bullpen.
This all sets up an unbelievable nugget from Marc Carig's story on the Yankees bullpen in the Athletic. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, one of the game's great personalities, wanted Britton to defy his manager. Check this out:
[I]n the moment, as Rogers Centre sensed an oncoming meltdown, Britton recalled a sense of inevitability. It persisted even though Adam Jones stood at his position in center field during that hectic 11th inning and screamed into the visitors' bullpen. "Put yourself in!" Jones yelled between pitches, urging Britton to charge through the gates on his own, an act of insubordination. At one point before the season was lost, the bullpen phone rang. Britton heard only half the conversation. It was enough to capture the chaos. "He's been ready!" a coach pleaded.
Could we get Doc Brown on that Delorean time machine and go find a way to coax Britton to actually do this? Holy smokes, that would have been one of the most amazing sports stories of all time to see Britton just sprint out of the bullpen to the mound and take the ball, refusing to leave until Showalter made the move official with the umpires.
As it stands, the story makes Showalter's virtual black eye from that game even worse. It appears no one was on the same page with him in not having Britton in that ballgame, and rightfully so. It's entirely possible that if Showalter had put Britton in the game for the 11th inning that the Orioles would have won the World Series. It's probably unlikely, but it was still on the table.
The Orioles since then have fallen apart. They went 75-87 in 2017 and now have one of the worst teams in MLB history, entering Thursday at 46-112. Since the Deadball Era, only the 1962 Mets (40-120), 2003 Tigers (43-119) and 1935 Boston Braves (38-115) have lost more games.