Runner on second, one out in the ninth. Baltimore is up a run. Conventional wisdom is to pitch to the next hitter, Nick Castellanos, even though first base is open. You don’t put the winning run on base. That’s what the book says.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter had another idea.
“We’re going to walk this guy,” Showalter said to the group assembled on the mound around closer Zach Britton. “The next guy’s going to hit into a double play, and we’re gonna go home.”
Britton had given up back-to-back doubles to start the ninth, allowing Detroit to cut the margin to 2-1 and put the tying run in scoring position. Britton battled back to strike out Bryan Holaday, who got into a hole in the at-bat after failing to get down a sacrifice bunt that would have moved the runner to third with the first out.
Castellanos, a .259 hitter in the regular season, with 11 homers and 66 runs batted in, was maybe the last big threat for the Tigers at the bottom of the order. Shortstop Andrew Romine was due up next, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had already sent a pinch-hitter, Hernan Perez, who had spent most of the 2014 season in the minors, to the on-deck circle.
Showalter’s move put the pressure on the rookie with five big-league at-bats to do something damaging against an elite closer with a 97-mph sinker designed to induce game-ending double plays.
Britton got ahead 0-1 on a swinging strike, and then on the second pitch, Perez made Showalter prophetic, grounding to third baseman Ryan Flaherty, who started one of the easier series-clinching 5-4-3 double plays you’ll ever see.
And credit to Showalter for ignoring the book to give his team the best chance to win.
– Column by Chris Graham