Inspired by Taylor Swift re-releasing her own songs as (Taylor’s version), Camden Chat writers will be spending the rest of 2023 re-releasing some Orioles game recaps and giving them better endings. Let’s start with the obvious and think about another way that October 4, 2016 could have gone...
Sometimes a team needs its best players to make good things happen if the team is going to go places. As the wild card game between the Orioles and the Blue Jays rolled on, with inning after inning of futility by the O’s offense and with the number of available relievers dwindling, who else could they count on? Manny Machado and Zack Britton, obviously. Machado’s 12th-inning leadoff homer was followed by Britton’s shouldering a second inning flawlessly, and the 2016 O’s postseason squeaked on into the next series with a 3-2 victory in the winner-take-all wild card.
It doesn’t take much to make a manager look smart when you can bring in a closer who was a perfect 47-for-47 in saves with a 0.54 ERA in the regular season into a win-or-go home postseason game and let him loose for two innings. Who else was Buck Showalter going to have in there as the game stretched into the 11th inning and beyond? Brian Duensing and Ubaldo Jiménez? Come on.
This was not an action-packed game. Through ten innings, Baltimore and Toronto batters had combined for a total of ten hits and three walks. Two teams that had trouble scoring in the regular season when they weren’t getting long balls continued with those struggles. They struck out a lot. One thing you can give for this is that it makes every moment feel like it matters a great deal.
Facing off against Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, Orioles batters were retired in order in each of the first three innings. No one reached base and Stroman, who was one of just nine pitchers to toss more than 200 innings in the regular season, was on pace to go the distance in 105 pitches. The waiting parts of a “wait for your big home run hitters to hit home runs” strategy that the O’s employed by necessity this season don’t always look pretty.
The Orioles fell behind in these early lifeless innings. Chris Tillman going up against the Jays lineup was not able to equal Stroman’s results. He came close, but as my high school Chemistry teacher always said, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear missiles. Tillman gave up just one hit over the first three innings. Regrettably, that one hit was a home run hit by longtime O’s nemesis José Bautista.
Bautista was not the dangerous hitter that he has been in recent years this season. In his age 35 year of action, perhaps time is catching up to him. Yet he still hit 22 home runs in 116 games and has enough in the tank to punish a mistake by a good pitcher. Bautista has had Tillman’s number in their careers to date.
The perfecto was broken up in the top of the fourth inning as Adam Jones led off with a single. Jones sitting in the leadoff spot, as he did 108 times in the regular season, is another reminder that the O’s lacked a true on-base threat this year. Dexter Fowler’s .393 OBP sure would have looked nice, wouldn’t it? But let’s not take anything away from Jones. The Orioles needed to get a rally started and he hit a single to get it started.
Two outs later, Jones had advanced to second base but gotten no farther. The Orioles were once again waiting for a home run hitter to hit a home run. At bat was Mark Trumbo, fresh off of leading all MLB hitters in home runs this season. Trumbo ambushed the first pitch he saw from Stroman in this at-bat and the O’s took a 2-1 lead. To think the Orioles only had to give up Steve Clevenger to get him.
Was Tillman up to the task of holding this lead? No. The Jays struck back in the bottom of the fifth, opening a rally with a one-out Michael Saunders double that bounced over the right field fence. Not that Tillman got help from the defense behind him. The next batter, Kevin Pillar, hit a catchable fly ball that was played from an out into a double by Michael Bourn, the Orioles’ late August acquisition who was ostensibly acquired to stabilize right field defense for the postseason. When the key play happened, Bourn did not stabilize anything.
The only silver lining of the gift double for the Orioles is that Saunders, not expecting the misplay, was not able to score, so he actually only got to third base on Pillar’s double. This granted a brief respite to Tillman, but he wasn’t able to capitalize, and #9 hitter Ezequiel Carrera beat him for a game-tying single.
Showalter, who occasionally shows too much faith in his veteran guys like Tillman, did not miss the signs and came out for the hook. Enter Mychal Givens, who though he isn’t much of a ground ball pitcher induced a first-pitch double play by the Jays top of the order batter, Devon Travis, ending the inning and preserving the 2-2 tie.
Givens getting this double play and pitching into the seventh was massive for the Orioles as the game turned into a bullpen affair. Perhaps sensing that it was going to go more than nine innings, Showalter pushed everything he could get from his back-end guys. Brad Brach entered for the eighth and stayed in the ninth even after Josh Donaldson led off with a double.
That potential walkoff was snuffed out as Darren O’Day entered and got his own inning-ending double play, which sent the game on into extra frames. O’Day added a scoreless tenth for good measure. The Orioles hitters, for their part, recorded all of one walk as five Jays relievers combined to get the game into the tenth inning.
Here, Toronto used what it probably hoped was the winning stratagem: Put in a left-handed starting pitcher and hope to outlast the Orioles. The team scuffed to a .692 OPS against lefties for the season. Its bench righties for this game were light-hitting veterans Nolan Reimold and Drew Stubbs, and five-game rookie Trey Mancini.
Francisco Liriano might have made it work if he could make it past Britton. He made it five batters. Leading off the top of the twelfth, he tried to pitch around Machado - the only batter in the Orioles lineup who had good numbers against lefties this year. He tried. He failed. A pitch that was meant to be outside hung out over the plate and Machado did not miss. His knees robbed him of a chance to have a signature postseason moment in 2014. The 2016 O’s are lucky that he was there.
After a drama-free eleventh that saw Britton set down the 9-1-2 batters in the Jays order as they grounded out early in counts, suddenly Britton had to preserve his own win instead of get a save. And because it couldn’t be any other way, he was going to have to get through Edwin Encarnación, Bautista, and Russell Martin to do it. This after a 1.2 inning outing two days earlier. He had not had consecutive outings of more than one inning all season. There was no guarantee that even Britton would be automatic.
It did not matter. Encarnación led off with a single up the middle, which reactivated the hopes of Jays fans in just enough time for them to be snuffed out as Britton got the double play ball he specializes in from Bautista. Ground balls hit to three-time Gold Glover J.J. Hardy do not tend to end well for the batter. Martin struck out on four pitches and the game was over.
A person who believes in the baseball gods as entities of substantial power who mete out justice against the unworthy is going to be even more of a believer after this game. Play was interrupted for a short time after a Blue Jays fan threw a full beer can into the outfield while Hyun Soo Kim was in the process of trying to make a catch.
Though this particular act could be written off as the actions of one drunk, the whole crowd booed Adam Jones as he both showed his outrage and tried to gesture to direct security in the area of the perpetrator. Such things come with a price, and it was paid in full as Machado rounded the bases in near-silence from what turned out to be the game-winning homer. Cito still sucks.
As for the Orioles, they will be headed next for a match against the best-in-AL Texas Rangers in the ALDS. With Gausman still unavailable for Game 1 and Tillman not likely to pitch before Game 4, we have the next couple of days to dread who is actually going to pitch for the O’s in the ALDS. That’s a much better thing to have on our minds than we would if the Orioles had lost the wild card game.
Who is the Most Birdland Player of the 2016 Wild Card Game (Camden Chat’s version)?
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