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Orioles play of the game: Zach Britton induces game-ending double play

Zach Britton made things interesting on Wednesday night, but when he had the game end abruptly with a double play, it all worked out for the best.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ninth inning drama is not something that Orioles fans have come to expect from Zach Britton. His perfect save season in 2016 with simply amazing ERA and WHIP numbers may have left you rather spoiled as to what even a merely “just” good closer is capable of achieving.

There was drama on Wednesday night before the Orioles ended up completing their sweep of the Blue Jays. Like, tying run in scoring position and go ahead run on first with only one out level of drama. It was drama of Britton’s making, but it was drama all the same.

When Britton came in from the bullpen, with the new LED lights at Oriole Park at Camden Yards flicking along with his intro video, the Orioles had a 92.2% chance of winning the game.

It is not actually hard to protect a two-run lead when you only need to get three outs - and when you’re at home, there’s the chance to win it in the bottom half of the inning even if the game becomes tied.

The Play

By the time Steve Pearce came to the plate with one out in the top of the ninth inning, that chance had slipped to 71.8%, according to the Fangraphs Win Expectancy graph.

Even with the bases loaded and one out, the Orioles were far more likely to win the game than not. Things were maybe a bit closer than that, though, because the next run-scoring play would have produced a big swing.

The runners reached base like so: Jose Bautista ripped a line drive into left field. When Britton is giving up line drives, that makes you nervous. Kendrys Morales followed with a ground ball that went between two Orioles infielders. With one out, Britton then walked Russell Martin, missing mostly low and away.

At the end of a seven-pitch battle, Britton got Pearce to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the game in one fell swoop. The Jays chances of winning went from 28.2% to a flat-lined 0%. Credit to J.J. Hardy for a quick feed to Jonathan Schoop, and credit to Schoop for his usual cannon arm throw to first to beat the runner. Game over!

By the way, if you were wondering, Britton did not have many plays of the game by this measure last season, so it’s not something the closer is guaranteed to win. It really only happens if the closer gets into a jam and then gets out of the jam.

The next-best Orioles play was the go-ahead home run hit by Adam Jones in the bottom of the third inning. That play gave the Orioles a 22.5% boost to their win chance, from 40.7% (more likely to lose than win) to 63.2%.

The At-Bat

The game was inches away from ending on the first pitch. Britton threw the kind of pitch that Britton throws. Pearce hit a bouncer that was just foul down the third base line. Had it been fair, it’s likely Machado would have ended the game with a 5-3 double play.

Then, there were problems. Here’s catcher Welington Castillo setting up low - where you want to be - for Britton’s second pitch:

From April 5, 2017
Hit this glove and it’s almost like an insta-GIDP.

That’s the plan. It’s a good plan! Throw the Britton sinker for which he has become famous and good things will happen. It doesn’t have to be complicated. All Britton has to do is get somewhere close to that glove.

But he doesn’t get close to the glove:


Britton has missed the target by about a foot high and probably six inches outside. It’s enough that Pearce was enticed to swing and foul off the ball. The foul ball went into the air. Had Britton missed over the plate with this pitch, there would have been trouble.

Pitch #3 plays out similarly - Britton misses his spot and the ball ends up in an even more tantalizing place. Fortunately for the Orioles, it’s pretty hard to hit a sinking pitch at 97.4mph, even one that’s elevated a bit. Still, if you were watching these high pitches getting fouled off into the air, what you were probably doing is what we like to call on Camden Chat, holding on to your butt.

You’ll note, if you looked at the strike zone map, that pitch #4 was actually strike three, but the umpire did not call the pitch correctly. This was one of four Orioles-thrown strikes called as balls in the game according to the Brooks Baseball Pitch F/x map.

That’s better than Monday’s home plate umpire, who was in the double digits. This could also turn into a Castillo framing argument. It ended up working out for the O’s in this instance.

Castillo saved a wild pitch with pitch #5 - bouncing in the chalk of the opposite batter’s box. The next pitch was another foul ball, this one a bouncer to the third base side again. That’s closer to what Britton wants.

By now, Britton has thrown 23 pitches. The so-called “danger zone” after which closers may tire is 20 pitches. Is Pearce going to outlast his ex-teammate and force Buck Showalter to bring in Darren O’Day, who started warming during the at-bat? Not this day. Here’s Gary Thorne calling the game-ending double play.

Even over a very small sample size, you don’t feel too great if your closer has a 2.333 WHIP. Some batted ball luck has gone against him and he’s had some command problems that he sort of predicted a week ago. That’s a problem for another day, if it continues. Britton can rest on Thursday and will surely be available if needed on Friday night.

For Wednesday, Britton got the ball down, got his ground ball at an infielder, and got his game-ending double play. The Orioles remain undefeated in 2017.

Tally of plays of the game

  • Mark Trumbo - 1
  • Zach Britton - 1