Baltimore Orioles: Two-strike counts hurt Buck Showalter, O’s
An in-game decision by Buck Showalter impacted the Baltimore Orioles on this day, but we’ll get to that later in the article. But first off, what is it with Oriole pitchers and two-strike counts? Miguel Gonzalez gave another lackluster start this afternoon, capped off by an 0-2 pitch that hung in the middle of the plate – when it shouldn’t have. Gonzalez’s line: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 6 K.
Let’s start with the positive aspect for Gonzalez; six strikeouts in under five innings is impressive. While he did have a couple of halfway decent innings, he was never able to get into a groove. However he had the lead before even stepping onto the field, after an RBI-single by Matt Wieters and an RBI-double by Jonathan Schoop. After the top of the first, the O’s led 2-0.
However Anaheim wasn’t down for long; Cole Calhoun’s solo home run in the last of the first cut the Orioles’ lead to 2-1. That would bring us forward until the third inning. While the O’s continued to lead 2-1, Anaheim put two runners on base with two outs. That brought David Murphy to the plate, and Gonzalez appeared to have things under control as he got two quick strikes on Murphy…
…but things aren’t always what they seem. Normally on an 0-2 count I would
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suggest throwing something out of the strike zone, preferably low and away. However Gonzalez threw a pitch right down broadway, and one for which Murphy seemed ready at that. Murphy’s three-run homer gave Anaheim the lead at 4-2.
I can’t explain why the O’s seem to struggle on defense with two outs and/or two strikes. A low and away breaking ball might not be everyone’s go-to in that count or situation, however needless to say the pitch shouldn’t be a fastball in the middle of the plate. Again, I was a bit baffled by that; did the Orioles try to use reverse-psychology on that play? I’m not sure it can be quite that simplistic, however needless to say it was a curious call.
But the good news was that the Orioles weren’t quite done. They were mesmerized by Anaheim starter Jared Weaver, who had just come off the DL. His slow pitches froze Oriole hitters all afternoon. Luckily for the O’s however, Weaver left the game after five innings. And that gave them a shot at coming back.
Gerardo Parra hit his first Oriole home run in the sixth inning, cutting the Anaheim lead to 4-3. Later in the inning Chris Davis tied the score at four with a solo homer of his own, and we had a new ballgame. The fact that the Birds rattled off two home runs in the immediate aftermath of Weaver’s departure shows you how dominant he was.
Nobody was able to score for the remainder of the way, which sent the game to extra innings. Carlos Perez led off the last of the 11th with a double, putting the winning run in scoring position. Johnny Giavotella then committed an unforced error in trying to move Perez over – he foul bunted on a two-strike count. But Anaheim still had the winning run in scoring position, and after a Calhoun strikeout they had Mike Trout striding to the plate…
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…and with first base open Buck Showalter opted to walk him. That brought Albert Pujols up, and Showalter correctly (in my opinion) opted to walk him as well – loading the bases for David Murphy. You know that both Pujols and Trout can hurt you with one swing – possibly quicker than other players around the league. Murphy is a good hitter that had already homered, but I would submit that those are odds you hae to take.
Unfortunately for Showalter and the O’s, Murhy hit a walk off RBI-single and the O’s fell 5-4. However understand that this game doesn’t fall on Buck Showalter’s shoulders. The downside of that decision is that it put Brian Matusz in a position where he had to throw strikes – especially when the count got to three balls. While perhaps loading the bases put the pressure on Matusz a bit, he still has to execute.
My point here is that Showalter’s decision shouldn’t be adversely judged based on the results. The decision itself was the right one. Some might say that the O’s were afraid of letting Trout or Pujols beat them – and maybe they have a slight point. However one should look at it from the perspective of playing the odds. Would you rather pitch to one of those guys, or someone else?
The O’s now head to Seattle for a three-game set, with Wei-Yin Chen on the mound tomorrow night. He’ll be opposed by Vidal Nuno of Seattle. Game time is set for just after 10 PM.
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