It really hurts to do this one...
Chris Ray, I know you are reading this, so listen to me carefully: If you keep blowing saves, I will no longer champion your cause. End of story. If you are being paid the big bucks to pitch, you better pitch like you mean it.
For anyone who turned off yesterday's O's- Angels game before the ninth inning, thinking, "They got it", you should've stuck around. Then you could be sharing the same disbelief and pain that every other O's fan has. It seemed like something I've seen before. Jeremy Guthrie pitched like a master, throws an eight inning, 3 hitter, and leaves with a lead. Ray comes in, and two batters later, the Angels are jumping around and dancing on the plate. To quote Yogi, it was De ja vu all over again, because it wasn't over until it was over.
First, some good things about yesterday: Guthrie, of course. The man can flat out pitch. He's currently 4th in the AL in ERA. That's not too shabby for a rookie (he's technically a rookie because he did not appear in enough games during his Indians stint to qualify as a veteran). Every time he pitches, the Orioles know they're going to get 8 strong innings, and then Guthrie will receive a No Decision when the bullpen blows the game. Another positive from yesterday was a Mr. Melvin Mora. The Original Big Papi (come on, he has 6 kids) blasted a homerun that would have served as the game winner if it wasn't for Ray. He continues to be one of the most consistent players on the team, delivering day in and day out. He also showed some spark yesterday by giving the water cooler a good kick when he left the field after the ninth inning debacle. Thank god another Oriole has reached the breaking point. Now Mora and Jay Payton can start inspiring the rest of the team. Other positives included Brian Roberts continuing his latest hot streak (he's the early leader for Orioles' MVP) and Nick Markakis again delivering a big hit (a close second for OMVP).
Then the wheels fell off the wagon yet again. It would seem like it would be too much of a stretch to ask Major League Baseball to shorten the length of a game to eight innings, wouldn't it? That being the case, we have to do something to find a way to win games in the last inning. One solution would have been to LEAVE GUTHRIE IN! How many times have we said that this year? The poor guy pitches a masterpiece, a one hitter through 7, a three hitter through 8, and we yank him, even though he only had 88 pitches under his belt. Three weeks ago, during the Beatdown in Boston, Guthrie was yanked after 102 pitches to "save his arm". From what? A win? And what was today's excuse, Sammy? He only had 88 pitches. He already went 8 innings. That's 11 pitches per inning. He would have finished with 99 (in theory), which is even one pitch short of that mystical 100 pitch plateau that Perlozzo and Mazzone keep to like it's religious doctrine. He should be leading the league in complete games right now, and have at minimum two more wins. Instead, he can only be found when you look at the American League ERA stats. What's more is that everybody except the management knows that Guthrie could have finished it. Even casual baseball fans like the Mix 106.5 Morning Show knew he should've been left in. Said the DJ's, "If you're going to try and save his arm, pull him in the sixth, not the eighth. His arm is gone anyway by the eighth, at least let him try to finish it, and possibly win the game, or lose it on his terms." If I were Guthrie, I'd be ready to kick a little @$$.
The latest managing gaff wasn't even the worst part, however. Many would argue that going to the closer in the bottom of the ninth whilst clinging to a one run lead is the right thing to do. That is the right thing to in the textbook, but the Orioles are far from a textbook case. Perlozzo should know his team well enough by now to know that treating the Orioles like a textbook scenario can only lead to heartbreak. And it did. Bringing in Ray looked great on paper, and may have stemmed some of the heat from Perlozzo. By bringing in Ray, Perlozzo can again take no responsibility for the loss, which he promptly did. Quoth the oil painting, "We just needed three outs. We played our hearts out until that point. Our closer is supposed to come in and get you three outs. And it didn't happen... If your closer and your eighth-inning guy can't get anybody out, where do you go?" I'll tell you, Sammy: go to someone else. Redefine the roles. Don't worry about one guy racking up saves and another having the lowest ERA. Let the pitcher who is hot (Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, John Parrish) have a crack at it.
So now we're left with Ray. What do we do with Chris Ray. Last year, he looked like he would be an Oriole forever through the first 4 months of the season. He was a Superman, a man who only knew one thing, and it was how to get those three hard outs. He was invincible. No batter could touch him. As a rookie, in late April, in Yankee Stadium, clinging to a 1 run lead with two outs, he struck out Hideki Matsui with runners on to preserve an Oriole win. He was a Yankee killer, a world beater, and nobody was going to stop him. He was destined for Copperstown. I even let Kim pose with him for a picture during Oriole Photo Day (OK, I was awestruck and let her pose with anybody, including Jon Halama). But then something changed.
I was actually present at Camden Yards during the fateful night that might have been the beginning of the end for Chris Ray. It was a typical warm evening. It was floppy hat night. Everybody was happy. The Orioles went into the ninth with a three run lead. It was Ray time. Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" blared over the speakers, and in came The Man. I was ready to stand up and take my floppy hat on home. Then a batter got on base. No biggy. Then another. We're OK. Then a third. He's fine, it's Chris Ray. Suddenly, there was a crack of the bat, and the left fielder just didn't have enough space. The ball sailed over the wall. It was what would prove to be a game winning Grand Slam, and the Yard was silent. I wanted to vomit.
I figured that was an isolated incident, and still championed Chris Ray's cause. Then A-Roid did the same damn thing. And it has happened to him four times this year, just not necessarily with a homerun. He has only had 16 save opportunities, and he has blown four of them. That's unacceptable. Think about it: 4/16 is 25%. If he has 32 opportunities (he had 35 last year), that's 8 blown saves. Eight additional losses, which would account for roughly 5% of the O's total games this year. So in theory, at the outset of the year, we would have to say we would like to finish with a .505 win percentage in order to compensate for Chris Ray. This is a team that struggles to make it to .500, and can't stay there when it does. Asking for .505 to account for the closer is just not feasible.
So with that, I bid adieu to my blind faith in Chris Ray. O's fans everywhere have been burned entirely too many times to be naive enough to keep going back to him. The problem then becomes who to use as the closer. On paper, the role would go to Danys Baez, the "set-up man" (I hate that term). The problem is, Baez is worse than Ray. I am now firmly of the camp that we should have a closer by committee, and just let whoever has the hot hand do the closing. Unfortunately, what makes sense and what Sam Perlozzo does are usually two different things.