Why Buck Showalter made the stupidest managerial decision I've ever seen
Years from now, people will still be trying to figure this one out
In the age of hot takes, it's easy to get caught up in hyperbole. This is the best burrito on Earth. That's the worst traffic jam in world history. Getting carried away with our opinions has become a national pastime.
With full awareness of that trend, I will say this: Buck Showalter just made the stupidest managerial decision I've ever seen.
The closer for the Orioles is Zach Britton. This season, the 28-year-old lefty fired 67 innings, struck out 74 batters, allowed just 38 hits, and posted a 0.53 ERA -- the lowest by any pitcher in major league history with that many innings pitched. In 58 appearances since the start of May, he'd held opposing batters to a line of .160/.222/.195, with one earned run allowed in 57 innings -- netting an ERA of 0.16. He might win the Cy Young award this year, and he'll get some MVP votes too.
With the Orioles' season on the line, and starter Chris Tillman in trouble in the fifth inning, Showalter summoned right-hander Mychal Givens. Then Donnie Hart. Then Brad Brach. Then Darren O'Day. With their season on the line and the game stretching to extra innings, Showalter kept finding reasons to use everyone...except the left-handed equivalent of Mariano Rivera in his prime.
In the bottom of the 11th, Showalter brought in Brian Duensing, a journeyman reliever who got tossed overboard by the Twins, signed to a minor league deal then chucked by the Royals, pulled off the scrap heap by the O's, underwent elbow surgery mid-season, and managed 13 1/3 innings before regular season's end. Continuing his hot streak, the Orioles skipper watched as Duensing struck out number-nine hitter Ezequiel Carrera.
Time for Buck to press his luck. With the top of the Jays' potent order coming up, Showalter surveyed all his options (which, again, included a pitcher who'd given up one earned run in his past 58 appearances), and chose...Ubaldo Freaking Jimenez.
Granted, Jimenez had pitched well in his last few starts of the regular season. But that modest hot streak came after he pitched worse than any other starter in the league for the first four months of the year. Also, Jimenez is a starting pitcher not accustomed to coming into games mid-inning. Also, again, the Orioles had a reliever putting up one of the best seasons ever available to pitch.
Devon Travis singled. No Britton. Josh Donaldson ripped another single, this time on the first pitch. No Britton. Finally, with the terrifying Edwin Encarnacion coming up, an inning-ending double play the best hope for the Orioles' salvation, and the best sinkerballer in the game sitting in the pen, Showalter kept rolling with Jimenez. The first pitch from Jimenez was a fastball, right down the middle. Then this happened:
After the game, reporters peppered both Showalter and Britton with questions about the ace reliever's health. Both replied that Britton was healthy and available to pitch. When reporters then followed with questions about Britton never making it into the game, Showalter basically admitted that he was holding his closer back for a save situation. "Playing on the road had something to do with it," he said.
For decades, countless managers have made similarly dunderheaded decisions. We've even seen skippers send in inferior pitchers with the game on the line during the playoffs, on the theory that closers should be held back until they get a traditional save situation, up one-to-three runs and in the ninth inning only.
But given all the circumstances in play here -- not one, two, or three but six other relievers getting the call, in a win-or-go-home game, with a reliever putting up historical numbers passed over for a mediocre starter, against the meat of a powerful lineup -- we can say it: Either Showalter and Britton are covering a vast injury conspiracy with KGB levels of stealth, or we just witnessed the baseball blunder to end all baseball blunders.
Centuries from now, when humans are living in a utopia in which war and poverty have ended, everyone's nice to each other, ice cream sundaes are good for you, and baseball managers no longer manage based on the preposterous vagaries of the ridiculous save rule, we'll remember this night.
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