More than a month has passed now since the Orioles lost the AL Wild Card game to the Blue Jays and still the world refuses to give me a chance to move on from that regrettable loss. Can we just have one day where someone isn’t finding a new way to bring up the fact that Zach Britton didn’t pitch in the game?
(Yes, I know, I’m guilty of what I’m complaining about by writing this article instead of just letting it go by. Sorry.)
The postseason was chock full of unorthodox use of elite relievers, to the benefit of both of the teams that ultimately made it into the World Series this year. And every time one of those relievers strode in from the bullpen outside of a traditional three-out save situation was another occasion for the comedians in the baseball landscape to take another shot at O’s manager Buck Showalter for not using Britton in the Wild Card game.
I thought I might have some relief from this phenomenon with the end of the baseball season, being as there is, you know, no more baseball for people to react to in that way. That’s what I thought, foolishly, and it turns out that I was wrong. Here we are into November and it was Showalter, of all people, who found a way to twist that knife one more time.
Perhaps it’s better to say that it was the release of the top three finishers in the AL Cy Young voting that caused that knife to twist in Birdland once again. The BBWAA revealed the top finishers’ names - but not the order - on Monday night.
My friend and fellow Camden Chatter Stacey Folkemer joked to me earlier in the day that it might be worse if Britton won the Cy because then the narrative would be, “Showalter didn’t use the Cy Young winner!” That would surely have been horrible.
As it turned out, Britton, despite a season of historic dominance and a perfect 47-for-47 saves, did not make the top three, even without a head-and-shoulders-above amazing performance from any starting pitcher.
Showalter, who was among the top three finishers for AL Manager of the Year, reacted to the Britton snub to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, calling it “a real poor reflection on the people who are evaluating him.”
That’s all well and good. One thing you can always say about Buck is that he’ll be in the corner supporting his guys. He likes our guys. That’s his phrase. The Orioles even put it on a giveaway t-shirt. On top of saying he was “shocked” that Britton didn’t make the top 3 cut for Cy, Showalter opined that he thought Britton should have been in the top three for American League MVP.
Nor was Showalter the only one locally to take up the Britton cause. Many of the reporters covering the team were just as surprised. But of course, out of all of these people, only Showalter could have put Britton into the game - and as we well know, he did not, and the Orioles lost.
In advocating for Britton’s Cy Young and MVP cause, Showalter said a lot of other things, including these direct quotes from the Kubatko article:
There’s nobody in baseball who’s more valuable to their team than Zach Britton is to the Orioles.
Where do you think we are without Zach Britton?
Do you know how many times we walked into the clubhouse this year we had that feeling of having lost a game in the ninth inning?
Well, when you put it that way, no, they didn’t lose in the NINTH inning...
I’m sure you just had a very similar reaction to reading that line right there. It’s like an automatic response. No, they didn’t lose in the ninth inning, but they lost in the eleventh inning. Where they are without Zach Britton is back in Baltimore as losers of the Wild Card game. As seemingly every single baseball-inclined wannabe funny person on Twitter was happy to point out last night.
I’ve heard all of the arguments about why I should have gotten over this long ago. It’s not worth even blaming the decision to not use Britton because the Orioles should have gotten more than four hits in the game. Chris Tillman should have pitched more like a staff ace to set up a regular save situation.
Also, that I should just get over it because it’s not very productive to keep getting worked up about Britton not getting used in the game. That’s probably the most important one of all. It’s not even like I’m mad at Showalter about it. I can only imagine if he could play it over, he would have gone to Britton.
I’m also sure that if, instead of Showalter, the 2016 Orioles had been managed by one of the bad managers of the 2000s - Lee Mazzilli or Dave Trembley, say - the O’s would have been nowhere near the playoffs for a variety of reasons. So whatever we might say about that one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad game, there’s no doubting that Showalter, on balance, has been and remains a positive for the Orioles franchise.
Still, when Showalter says in favor of Britton in Kubatko’s article linked above, “You cannot win without people like him,” all I can think at first is:
Yeah, we noticed.
And then, even though it’s been more than a month: