Ever since Tommy Hunter blew the lead Tuesday night against the Tigers, there has been much speculation over who would be the pitcher to close the game when the Orioles had the lead in the ninth inning.
Many were thinking the O’s were going to go with right-hander, Darren O’Day and his sidearm pitching style. Others were worried Buck Showalter was going to stick with the closer who has caused numerous headaches in the Baltimore community.
Fans did not have to wait long. After Nelson Cruz blasted a shot to right-center field through the strong winds in Kauffman Stadium, the Orioles bats were silenced by a superb pitching performance from the Royals youngster, Yordano Ventura. Along with some great efforts by the Royals relievers, the Orioles struck out thirteen times collectively.
Luckily, Wei-Yen Chen was able to pitch out of some jams and only gave up one earned run, and thanks a great outing by O’Day who pitched 1.2 innings of relief, the Orioles were able to hold onto a 2-1 lead.
Throughout the top of the ninth inning, fans were eagerly awaiting who was to emerge from the bullpen to pitch in the bottom of the ninth. The camera continuously panned back to the bullpen.
Hunter started throwing and I think I speak for most fans when I say my hands became clammy and my heart beat a bit faster. Yet, later in the top of the ninth, Zach Britton was seen throwing some warm-up pitches while Hunter sat watching.
The Orioles batters were put down in order and the moment came. The bullpen door to the field slowly opened and fans awaited the team’s “fate.” Luckily, the pitcher who ran onto the field had on the jersey with the number “53″ on it and not “29.”
All fans were excited to see how Britton would perform in this setting. Many pitchers would be “amped up” and not able to perform under the pressure that comes with a save opportunity. However, Britton stepped up to the challenge and pitched with confidence and precision.
After the first Royals batter grounded out to second for the first out, Britton faced off against former Oriole, Danny Valencia.
Valencia was well aware of Britton’s pitching tendencies so Britton had to proceed with caution. After Valencia worked the count to 3-2, Britton threw one Valencia count not lay off of and caused him to hit a weak ground ball to J.J. Hardy who handled it with ease, making the throw to first for the second out of the inning.
Britton was one out away from doing something no Orioles closer has done this year: pitch a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close the game. He wasted little time with the third Royals batter he faced. With a 1-0 count, Britton threw a 94 MPH fastball that forced the batter to hit the ball with the end of his bat causing another weak ground ball to Hardy.
Hardy threw to first for the third and final out. This ninth inning performance by Britton was great for two reasons.
One, it snapped Baltimore’s four-game losing streak, which allowed for the O’s to remain in first place in the American League East. And two, it showed every Baltimore Orioles fan that a pitcher can shut down the opposing team 1-2-3 when the game is on the line in the ninth inning and secure the save for the birds.
This was Britton’s first career save. The scoreless inning of work lowered Britton’s ERA to 0.81. Although I do not see Britton as the closer because he may be the team’s strongest reliever in the sixth and seventh inning, it was nice to see that the Orioles do have a pitcher who can sit the opponent down in order to get the save and secure a win for the O’s.
The true question is now: Who will Showalter put in the next game for a save situation? Only time will tell.