By HAL McCOY
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, relaxing in front of the Smart TV watching the Toronto-Baltimore wild card game with no intent to write anything.
Edwin Encarnacion changed all that.
His three-run home run on the first pitch from Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez in the bottom of the 11th sent the Jays into the playoffs and sent the Orioles home.
REMEMBER ENCARNACION, REDS fans? He went by EE. He was a third baseman for the Reds, but not a good one. Fans behind first base needed batting helmets for protection from his many errant throws.
And there was the time manager Jerry Narron fined him for not running out a pop fly. Narron didn’t appreciate Encarnacion’s laid-back demeanor. He is the strong, silent type and it sometimes made him look lazy. He wasn’t.
ENCARNACION, THOUGH, HAS turned into a superstar with the Toronto Blue Jays and fans constantly ask, “Why did the Reds trade him?”
He was dealt mid-season of 2009 to Toronto for third baseman Scott Rolen. Why? The Reds needed defense at third base and they needed leadership. Rolen provided both.
And Encarnacion is either a designated hitter or a first baseman for the Jays. Because the Reds are in the National League, Encarnacion could not be a DH. And the Reds had this young first baseman named Joey Votto.
Votto won the MVP in 2010 and Rolen helped the Reds win the National League Central. They lost in three staight to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Encarnacion was expendable. And in Toronto Encarnacion has had a reincarnation of his career.
HOW THE GAME IN TORONTO unfoled Tuesday night was curious.
Why was Encarnacion pitched to in the 11th and why was he facing Ubaldo Jimenez?
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter has this unhittable relief pitcher, closer Zach Britton. His earned run average this season was 0.54. From May 5 until the end of the season Britton gave up one run. One.
Showalter used seven pitchers this night but Britton wasn’t one of them. Why not? Because Showalter was operating on the accepted theory these days that you save your closer until you get a lead.
THIS, THOUGH WAS A one-and-done game. Lose and you go home. Shouldn’t Britton have been in the game for the 10th and/or the 11th. Shouldn’t he have at least been brought into the game to face Encarnacion in the 11th with one out and runners on third and first?
Showalter, though, stuck with Jimenez. And he permitted Jimenez to face Encarnacion. An intentional walk would have filled the bases, yes, but it would have set up a force at any base and would have made it easier to turn a double play.
BRITTON, BY THE WAY, throws a death-defying sinker and is a ground ball machine.
Instead Jimenez threw a hit-me, hit-me fastball right into Encarnacion’s red zone and he hit a no-doubter that brought out a roar that shook the CNN Tower near the ball park.
Asked about not using Britton, Showalter said, “That’s the way it was. It just didn’t work out.”
It certainly didn’t. He did acknowledge that from the sixth inning on, “I thought about it (using Britton), but it was working out for us. Ubaldo Jimenez has been our best starter his last six or seven games.”
But he hasn’t been a relief pitcher. Zach Britton is his best, probably baseball’s best right now and a Cy Young contender.
Showalter is an outstanding manager, one of the best. On this night, he wasn’t.
And Edwin Encarnacion thanks him from the bottom of the batter’s box.