If there has been one common theme for the 2016 Baltimore Orioles, it is this: If they have a lead heading into the ninth inning, they win the game.
On Wednesday night in Baltimore, Orioles’ closer Zach Britton earned his 33 save of the season in a 3-2 Orioles victory over the Texas Rangers. With that save, he moved into sole possession of third place on the Orioles all-time saves list with 106 career saves, passing left-hander Tippy Martinez. Britton now holds the club record for most saves by a left-handed pitcher.
Britton also improved to 33-for-33 in save opportunities to start the season, setting the Major League record for the longest saves streak in as many chances to start a season by a left-handed pitcher, passing LHP Willie Hernandez of the 1984 Detroit Tigers.
Britton’s mark of 33 consecutive saves in as many chances is tied for the seventh-longest stretch in Major League history with legendary closer Trevor Hoffman.
What’s even more impressive is that Britton has not given up an earned run since April, his 1.45 career ERA as a reliever is the lowest in baseball history among pitchers with at least 100 career appearances and following last night’s performance, he has lowered his ERA to 0.59 in 45 2/3 innings. In those innings, Britton has allowed just three earned runs, 22 hits and one home run while striking out 52.
The best part about Britton’s success is that it has mostly flown under the radar. The Orioles currently sit one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays atop the AL East and their lefty closer is a big reason why.
“He was pretty good from the get-go,” O’s manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s just got great presentation now. I’d be picky telling you he’s got to improve on this. I don’t think I’ve seen many guys take to it that quickly. Giving an honest evaluation about where he is physically and everything. Saving his bullets.
“He’s worked hard on his breaking ball. There are going to be some nights when that third time out there he’s probably going to need to go to a secondary pitch. He just doesn’t give in.There’s always a debate [for best closer]. You could throw four or five guys in the same hat, but there’s nobody out there better than him.”
Britton was originally a starter, going 18-17 with a 4.86 ERA and opponents hitting .279 against him. After bouncing around from rotation to bullpen, he was able to adapt to the bullpen and was later named the closer.
Britton’s path to the bullpen is similar to all-time great, Mariano Rivera’s. Rivera was initially a starter, but struggled going 3-3 with a 5.94 ERA. When he was moved to the bullpen, he adapted and excelled behind then-Yankee closer John Wetteland. Following the 1996 season, Rivera became the team’s closer and the rest they say, is history.
Britton still has quite a ways to go before touching Rivera, but if 2016 is of any indication, the O’s closer is on his way to becoming one of the best, one ninth inning at a time.