TORONTO — For four innings, the question was obvious.
Why wasn’t the best reliever in baseball this season not in the most important game of the season?
Zach Britton stood in the bullpen and watched as the Baltimore Orioles season ended abruptly.
The Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays were tied 2-2, and as the innings went on, manager Buck Showalter used reliever after reliever.
By the time, Ubaldo Jimenez came into the game in the 11th inning, Showalter only had three of his nine eligible relief pitchers left: Dylan Bundy, Tommy Hunter, and Britton, who had 47 consecutive saves.
Instead, Jimenez came into the wild-card game, gave up singles to Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson, and after Showalter came to the mound, Edwin Encarnacion launched a home run into the left field stands, and the Orioles were headed home for the long winter.
The Blue Jays’ 5-2 win over the Orioles before a raucous crowd of 49,934 at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night, sends Toronto to Arlington, Tex. for an American League Division Series with the Rangers.
Until the Orioles gather again next February, there will be loud debates about why Britton wasn’t in the game.
“You can use Zach Britton in the seventh and eighth inning and not have anybody to pitch the last inning,” Showalter said.
“There’s a lot of risk taken every inning, every pitch. You take that on when you get in this format.”
The Orioles had just four hits in 11 innings, none in the last 5 1/3.
No lead, no Britton.
“I’m sure we were planning on scoring a run and getting him in there, we just couldn’t score a run,” Matt Wieters said.
Britton warmed up, but mostly just watched.
“It was frustrating, but that’s not my call. The guys ahead of me threw really well. Ubaldo has thrown great recently, so there was no doubt in my mind he was going to go out there and throw some zeroes. They’ve got the best part of their lineup coming up and you knew eventually one of these teams were gonna score, let’s be honest about it,” Britton said.
The possible Cy Young award winner always wants to be in.
“I was expecting it in certain situation, maybe if there was an opportunity for a double play ball in a big situation Whether or not we were ahead, behind or whatever. Coming into today they told me to be ready to go, multiple innings if need be,” Briitton said.
Instead of Britton, it was Jimenez, who allowed just one run in seven innings five days ago in Toronto. Jimenez pitched brilliantly once Chris Tillman was sidelined with shoulder soreness, but had only pitched in the bullpen eight times in his 11-season career, four this season.
“It’s not an excuse. As a professional, you’re trying to do the best you can in the position they put you, but it’s not my best. I’m trying to do the best I could out there,” Jimenez said.
The game was marred when a beer can was thrown at Hyun Soo Kim as he caught Melvin Upton Jr.'s fly ball in the seventh.
Otherwise, it was a terrific game, with the roof open for the first time at a postseason game at Rogers Centre.
“This was as action-packed, as you could have hoped for as far as the crowd being into it, us feeling good about where we were and that’s kind of the nature of a one-game playoff. One side is going to go home pretty angry,” Trumbo said.
Trumbo’s two-run home run off Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman in the fourth was the Orioles offense. Once Manny Machado singled with two outs in the sixth, the offense shut down.
The chatter was that the Orioles couldn’t wait to get into the Toronto bullpen, but the Orioles could do nothing with it.
Francisco Liriano, who was an option to start, was the winner, recording five outs after Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna left with shoulder tightness.
It was a great game overall. We can definitely say we left it out on the field, but we came up short. It’s just a bummer how it finished and that’s just how it is,” Machado said.
Trumbo is a free agent, and he said he’d like to return.
“Who wouldn’t? It’s been an absolute blast this year, I would say. I had a great time,” Trumbo said.
If he comes back, he’ll return to a veteran core of players led by Adam Jones, who has been in the postseason three times, but has fallen short of a World Series each time.
“They all sting unless you win it, right?” Jones said. “It [stinks] to lose, on the road, it’s all loud, but it doesn’t matter where you lose, you lose,” he said.