Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
When Taylor Teagarden connected off a Joel Peralta fastball yesterday, crushing the pitch into the left-center gap, it was only his third hit this season. This morning, he's now hitting .107/.138/.250 as an Oriole. He hasn't yet been a valuable part of the Orioles persistent winning ways, except in extra innings. In extra innings of course one hit is often the difference between winning and losing. Teagarden must believe this very seriously in the root of his soul because he's 2 for 3 with a homer and double after the ninth inning.
Teagarden isn't the only Oriole who has turned it on in extra innings. The Orioles as a team are hitting with an .817 OPS in extra innings (4th best in the American League), but only a .708 OPS overall (4th worst). The only Orioles with at least 100 plate appearances who have hit worst in extras than they have overall are Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino, and Wilson Betemit. That's it. Everyone else has found the secret clutch ointment in the clubhouse that only works in the 10th inning or later. The result is that the Orioles have scored about one and a half times more often in extra innings than they have otherwise.
The Orioles' 11-2 record in games that go past the ninth inning is a really big factor in their continued existence as competitors for the Coin Flip Game, and while you might acknowledge that, yes, the offense has played over its head and that happens in a small sample size (They have 149 extra inning PA total, which is a tiny, tiny sample), they also have a really big advantage in any game that is decided by bullpens. After all, the O's relief corps has a 3.16 ERA, 3rd best in the AL. It's been their one massive strength all year.
In extra innings, the bullpen has a 1.25 ERA, over four times as many strikeouts as walks, and has allowed only one home run, which is a big improvement on their overall numbers. This is in part because the best relievers can get the most time on the mound, but not entirely. Jim Johnson has faced the most batters in extra innings, but Kevin Gregg has faced only one less than him. The kicker there is that Gregg has been really good in extras - better than 8th inning man Pedro Strop. In fact, only Miguel Socolovich, Matt Lindstrom, and Strop have been hit harder in extras than they have overall.
Of course, the bullpen has only faced 139 extra inning batters. It's another tiny sample size, and you can find lots of guys playing way over their heads when you limit your worldview like that. Sometimes we acknowledge that it's just a weird fluke thing, but sometimes we want to put more meaning into it and call it being clutch. Are the Orioles a big-time clutch team, riding their way to the playoffs on their ability to enhance their game when every hit struck or given up can mean winning or losing? Or are they simply due for regression?