Bullpen no help as O's drop Jays
Bue Jays' Jose Bautista slides back to home plate ahead of the tag by Orioles' catcher Matt Wieters during Friday night's game at the Rogers Centre. (GETTY IMAGES)
For most of the last seven years of his endless career, Darren Oliver has been Old Reliable.
The 41-year-old lefthander’s rebirth as a reliever in 2006 is a remarkable thing to behold. Just not Friday night.
Summoned into the fray in the top of the eighth with the Blue Jays leading 5-4 and the tying run at first base, Oliver gave up a stolen base, an infield single, got a key strikeout, walked the bases full, then surrendered the lead on a two-run Wilson Betemit single on the way to a 7-5 Baltimore Oriole victory over the Jays.
The question of the night isn’t about Oliver so much as it is about whether he should have still been in the game, facing switch-hitter Betemit with the tying and lead runs in scoring position and Casey Janssen still in the bullpen.
The preference for John Farrell was to have Oliver face Betemit from the right side, rather than Janssen face Betemit from the left side. In 2011, Betemit hit 67 points higher (.303 to .236) from the left side.
“We wanted (Betemit) hitting righthanded,” said Farrell.
It can be argued that Farrell might have considered Janssen’s mastery of lefthanded hitters. In 2011, Janssen held lefthanded hitters to a .216 batting average as opposed to .242 against righthanded hitters.
Oliver had previously walked catcher Matt Wieters, also a switch-hitter, and a hot one from either side. Farrell had rightly decided he wasn’t going to let Wieters beat him, putting his trust in Oliver to get Betemit.
Oliver had faced Betemit five times previously, allowing one hit, but Betemit jumped on Oliver’s first pitch and drilled it into centre field for the decisive blow of the ballgame.
“It happens,” said Oliver. “It’s baseball. It’s over. (Wieters) is swinging a hot bat so we decided to go after the next guy who wasn’t swinging as hot a bat. But it seemed like everybody was kind of swinging a hot bat tonight, so maybe we should have tried to get Wieters.”
Nolan Reimold would later add a solo home run as insurance against Janssen in the ninth. It was the seventh homer of the night, three by Baltimore and four by the Jays.
If outs were measured in feet, Toronto starter Brandon Morrow might have set a record on this night.
Always a strikeout/flyball pitcher, Morrow has been trying to adjust his style to economize on his pitchcount so he can pitch deeper into games. On his good days, his cutter and off-speed pitches get beaten into the turf for harmless groundball outs.
In this outing against Baltimore, however, the ball was flying off the Orioles’ bats and Morrow’s outfield teammates were wearing out the warning track.
A couple of those fly balls left the park as solo home runs and a couple more went for doubles. At least a half-dozen more were collected by Blue Jay outfielders with their jersey numbers brushing the outfield walls.
The Orioles turned a first-inning leadoff double by Reimold into a 1-0 lead with help from a groundout by J.J. Hardy and a sacrifice fly to left by Nick Markakis.
Kelly Johnson got that run back in short order on a one-out opposite field homer in the bottom of the inning.
The Orioles took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Markakis doubled leading off, followed by an Adam Jones RBI single that just about took Morrow’s head off.
Jays tied the score again, this time on an error by Baltimore leftfielder Reimold when he failed to catch a line drive off the bat of Adam Lind, allowing Jose Bautista, who had singled, to score all the way from first base.
Yet again the Orioles took the lead in the fifth, this time on a solo home run to dead centre by Robert Andino. On cue, Colby Rasmus matched Andino in the bottom of the inning with a leadoff solo homer to knot the score at 3-3.
Two batters later, Toronto took its first lead of the game when Escobar launched his first homer of the year into the left field seats.
Jones responded for Baltimore with his third hit of the game and second homer of the year with one out in the sixth to tie the score 4-4.
Half an inning later, the see-saw once again tipped in Toronto’s favour when Edwin Encarnacion belted his second homer for a 5-4 advantage.
Then came the fateful eighth when Reimold singled off Jason Frasor to lead off. Frasor got J.J. Hardy on strikes before manager John Farrell went to Oliver and that’s when the game began to unravel.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go our way tonight,” said Oliver. “Hopefully there will be lots of nights when it does go our way. We just have to keep battling.”