Subtlety and Gamesmanship

The seventh inning of yesterday's game against the Rays had a few subtle moments that might get lost in the excitement of the Orioles win.

After the Rays had taken a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 6th, Rays manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen and LHP Jake McGee.  McGee, formerly a starter who had transitioned into a power bullpen arm, was fantastic against righties in 2012, holding them to a measly .291 OPS.  His OPS against left handers was .665, higher than righties but still outstanding.

McGee faced right hander Steve Pearce to start the inning and retired him on a fly ball to right.  

Brian Roberts was next and as a switch hitter, batted from the right side.  Roberts singled up the middle, possibly the games biggest and most under rated at bat of the day.  

One righty out, one righty on.  

For Nick Markakis, his first two hard outs of the day reaped him no rewards.  This at bat would pay off the “non-results” of his first two outs with a base hit up the middle.  The .665 OPS against left handers made a little more sense when you saw Nick’s ability to foul off a couple of strikes and then land his pitch for a single up the middle.  

The Orioles now had first and second, one out.  Here’s where things get interesting.  

Jose Molina, who was beat up by foul balls off the mask all game, made a slow visit to the mound.  It was logical - slow the game down and let McGee regroup before facing two righties in Manny Machado and Adam Jones.  

McGee gets Machado to strike out and Molina is out for another visit.  Logical?  Probably.  Necessary?  Probably not.  Regardless, he has a normal visit to the mound.  Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey decides to join the visit about 20 seconds later, which was done at the last minute and seemed like a predetermined move to once again slow the game down and get the strategy for Jones correct.  Again, very logical, but now there had been three mound visits in the inning, all very casual and methodical in length.

So what's was the payoff to this subtle slowing down of the game?

An Adam Jones double, which brought home Roberts and Markakis and the O’s regained the lead at 4-3.  

But maybe the most interesting part of the strategy and gamesmanship wouldn't occur until the bottom of the 7th.  Troy Patton started the inning, giving up a single to pinch hitter Ryan Roberts and then retiring Yunel Escobar on a flyball to center.  Joe Maddon pinch hit righty Shelley Duncan for lefty James Loney.  After the announcement was made, Buck made his way out of the dugout.  What initially appeared as Buck possibly losing his footing happened not once, but twice on his way to the mound, slowing his arrival.

Buck is also usually very quick with his signal to the bullpen.  The majority of the time, it occurs when he is near the foul line on his way out to the mound.  

But there was no signal here, just two instances of what looked like Buck having trouble getting his footing.  With the infield in at the mound, Buck talks to Patton for 15 to 20 seconds before finally making the motion for the right hander Darren O’Day.  It was the most prolonged, non-strategy talk that either Paul or I could remember during Buck's tenure with the O's.

Watching the game, we both noticed Buck’s first encounter with the turf and then clearly saw his second.  When he didn’t make the motion to the bullpen on his way to the mound, I suspected that his casual approach to the situation could have been payback for the Rays slow top of the 7th.  

In retrospect, O’Day probably needed a little more time to get loose and any number of seconds spared can allow a reliever one or two additional warm up pitches.  Even without any proof to say otherwise, I still have to believe that a manager like Showalter, who thinks through even the most minute details, knew exactly what he was doing.  

This was him making sure to show that if the game can be played at the speed which the Rays want when they are in the field, the Orioles can determine the speed of the game when they are in the field.  We often see the big effects from the change of culture provided under Buck, but we rarely get a glimpse at something so small, yet very powerful.