An­other tense af­fair in wild-card game

In tense af­fair, Ori­oles’ great­est strength be­comes their weak­ness

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - FROM THE BLOGS Peter Sch­muck

Was there re­ally any­one out there who doubted that the 20th game of the sea­son be­tween the Ori­oles and Toronto Blue Jays would be any­thing but a tense, hard-fought strug­gle that would test the nerves of both man­agers and the met­tle of both bullpens.

Remember, the sea­son se­ries and home-field ad­van­tage for Tues­day night’s sud­den-death American League wild-card game came down to a dif­fer­ence of one vic­tory over 19 reg­u­lar-sea­son games.

So, any­body who sat down at game time think­ing that the out­come was any­thing other than a coin flip had not been pay­ing at­ten­tion. The ten­sion mounted for 10-plus in­nings be­fore Ed­win En­car­na­cion launched a three-run walk-off homer against the last per­son you might have ex­pected to be on the mound in ex­tra in­nings with the

Ori­oles sea­son on the line. Ubaldo Jimenez faced three bat­ters and gave up three solid hits and that was that.

The Blue Jays cel­e­brated for the sec­ond game in a row and headed off for Ar­ling­ton, Texas, to open their American League Divi­sion Se­ries against the AL West cham­pion Texas Rangers.

The sell­out crowd was as rau­cous as ad­ver­tised. The Jays fans have packed Rogers Cen­tre all sea­son, but an ugly in­ci­dent at the end of the sev­enth in­ning didn’t ex­actly en­dear them to the Ori­oles or, pre­sum­ably, the in­ter­na­tional tele­vi­sion au­di­ence. Some­one threw a full beer can at Ori­oles left fielder Hyun Soo Kim as he was set­tling un­der a fly ball.

That fig­ured to be a sto­ry­line if the Ori­oles had won, but it was re­placed by the dis­be­lief on the part of the TBS com­men­ta­tors and, no doubt, a lot of fans that Ori­oles closer Zach Brit­ton — com­ing off one of the great­est sea­sons by a closer in base­ball his­tory — did not throw a pitch in the game.

Buck Showal­ter will be sec­ond-guessed for hold­ing him back for a pos­si­ble save op­por­tu­nity, but he would have faced the same crit­i­cism if the Blue Jays had scored off Brad Brach or Dar­ren O’Day in the ninth and the 10th.

The out­come not­with­stand­ing, both start­ing pitchers con­firmed the good judg­ment of their man­agers, who each had a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to make when he de­cided who would get the op­por­tu­nity to start what would be the only post­sea­son game one of the teams would get to play.

Showal­ter chose Chris Till­man over Ubaldo Jimenez, who sti­fled the Jays five days ear­lier in Toronto, and Till­man grinded through a work­man­like 41⁄ in­nings be­fore get­ting a quick hook when he got in a game-ty­ing jam in the fifth.

The pregame an­a­lysts on the TBS pregame show unan­i­mously agreed that Blue Jays man­ager John Gib­bons should have given the as­sign­ment to in-sea­son pickup Fran­cisco Liri­ano, but Mar­cus Stro­man got the start and held the Ori­oles to just four hits over six strong in­nings.

Let’s be hon­est. The Ori­oles are an ag­gres­sive, free-swing­ing team, so if any­body thought they’d come out and try to make Stro­man twist in the wind, it be­came ob­vi­ous pretty quick that noth­ing had changed since the reg­u­lar sea­son ended two days ear­lier.

Adam Jones set the tone by loft­ing the first pitch of the game to cen­ter field, and the Ori­oles did what they have done so of­ten dur­ing the sec­ond half of this sea­son. The lineup went down in or­der through the first three in­nings.

It wasn’t as if they had never been there be­fore and they quickly changed the sub­ject the sec­ond time through the or­der. Jones led off the fourth with an op­po­site-field sin­gle and Mark Trumbo needed just one pitch.

Trumbo had never be­fore ap­peared in a post­sea­son game at the ma­jor league level, so it had to be quite a thrill for him to pick up right where he left off af­ter lead­ing the ma­jor leagues with 47 homers dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

The guy had to prove it all sea­son, be­cause there were whis­pers af­ter his All-Star first half per­for­mance that he was not a sec­ond-half player and would not be nearly as pro­duc­tive in the sec­ond half. There was a drop-off af­ter the All-Star break, but he still hit 19 home runs over his fi­nal 72 games.

That eupho­ria wore off quickly and the game turned into an­other ref­er­en­dum on the Ori­oles’ overde­pen­dence on the home run ball. They hit more than any other team in base­ball this year and chal­lenged the fran­chise sin­gle-sea­son record, but their great­est of­fen­sive strength was also their great­est weak­ness and that — not Jimenez or Showal­ter — would be their un­do­ing.

NATHAN DENETTE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ori­oles right fielder Michael Bourn can’t make the catch on a dou­ble hit by the Blue Jays’ Kevin Pil­lar dur­ing the fifth in­ning.

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