In the eight previous wild-card games, we had one classic game -- Royals over A's in 2014, one of the most exciting playoff games ever -- and seven duds decided by three runs or more. We now have a second classic. Edwin Encarnacion ended it in dramatic fashion with a three-run walk-off home run in the 11th inning off Ubaldo Jimenez, but this 5-2 Blue Jays win will go down in lore as The Game That Buck Showalter Didn't Use Zach Britton.
1. Showalter uses six relievers but not the one with the 0.54 ERA. This is simple: Showalter screwed up. There are no excuses and no explanations that make sense. There is nothing that can make us understand why he would use Brian Duensing, who has pitched 13 innings with the Baltimore Orioles, or Jimenez, who pitched well down the stretch but isn't a reliever and had a 5.54 ERA on the season. Showalter managed to get Britton a save -- not to win the game. You cannot lose this game -- especially when it goes 11 innings -- without using the best reliever in baseball, the guy who allowed one earned run since April. It's a disgrace. It's one of the worst managerial decisions in postseason history.
Where's Britton, String? Where's Britton?— David Simon (@AoDespair) October 5, 2016
"I considered a lot of things over the course of the game," Showalter said after the game.
Any regrets about not using Britton? "You could do it afterward," Showalter said. "We went four innings there trying to get to that spot."
Sure, Showalter looks like a genius if the Orioles score in the ninth, the 10th or the 11th and then still have Britton to close it out. They didn't score, though, and Baltimore's season is over without Britton getting in the game. It's going be a long offseason.
Zach Britton says he was perfectly healthy, frustrated he didn't pitch— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 5, 2016
Shoulda gone with Britton pic.twitter.com/VpvgMSvj9e— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) October 5, 2016
2. Encarnacion makes history. After Duensing got the first out in the 11th, in came Jimenez, who had a 2.45 ERA in his final seven starts, thanks to mechanical fixes, supposedly, though this is a guy who has been wildly inconsistent over his career. Jimenez also walked seven guys in his final two starts, a big warning sign. Anyway, Devon Travis dropped a little flare into left field, then Josh Donaldson lined a base hit to left, with Travis taking third (Nolan Reimold bobbled the ball, but Travis was heading to third all the way, so no error was given). Showalter visited the mound. Still no Britton! Encarnacion said he was looking for a fastball, and he got a fat one on the first pitch:
Walkoff HRs in winner-take-all postseason games: Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Boone, Bill Mazeroski & Chris Chambliss. Edwin on an epic list!— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 5, 2016
3. Blue Jays play defense. One reason we got to the 11th inning was some superb defense by the Blue Jays, the team that led the American League in Defensive Efficiency (simply, the percentage of balls in play that are turned into outs) the past two seasons. Kevin Pillar, the likely Gold Glove center fielder, made a diving catch in the fourth inning, and that proved even bigger when Mark Trumbo homered immediately after. It was 2-1 Orioles but could have been 3-1 without Pillar's grab.
In the sixth, Troy Tulowitzki made a nice play in the hole and showed off his still-strong arm by getting Adam Jones for the first out of the inning. The Orioles made several nice plays as well, including two key double plays, but Michael Bourn failed to run down's Pillar liner in the fifth -- he appeared to just miss it -- and that led to the tying run.
Two-thirds of Canada is covered by snow. The rest is covered by Kevin Pillar.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 5, 2016
4. Francisco Liriano comes in, comes up big. There was a lot of speculation that the Blue Jays made a mistake by not starting Liriano. He pitched well down the stretch, but more significantly, the Orioles were the worst-hitting team against left-handers in the AL. Trumbo and Jones, for example, both hit under .200 against lefties. In the end, Liriano got his chance. After Marcus Stroman pitched six solid innings and Brett Cecil, Joe Biagini and Jason Grilli got through the seventh and eighth, closer Roberto Osuna got the next four outs before leaving with an injury. That brought on Liriano, who retired all five batters he faced.
Bautista in his postseason career (12 games): .295/.415/.705, five home runs, 12 RBIs. Oh, he finished the season on a tear as well.
You know what this means: Blue Jays versus Rangers. Bautista and Rougned Odor. A rematch of last year's division series. Two teams that don't like each other. It's going to be fun.