It was the bottom of the the ninth at Yankee Stadium, a great day for a ballgame. The Orioles had a 2-1 lead over the Bronx Bombers looking to sweep the Yankees in New York for the first time since 1986. Brad Bergesen pitched 6.1 strong innings surrendering only 1 run and the bullpen held on to a 2-1 lead through the 8th inning. Then Buck Showalter makes the call to the bullpen to bring in Koji Uehara. Uehara allows Alex Rodriguez to hit a leadoff rocket single to left field. After that, Robinson Cano made good conact on a ball that got caught at the warning track. The next batter was Nick Swisher, and Uehara put himself behind in the count 0-2. At that point, that was when everything broke loose, Uehara put an 88 mph fastball in the middle of the plate and Swisher hammered it over the left field fence for a 2-run, walk-off homerun. Uehara was previously 7/7 on the year in save situations, but none of those opportunities had any meaning or pressure to them. The O's are 53-87 this year and are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. So when the first pressure save opportunity comes along with a chance to sweep the Yankees, he gives up a 2 run bomb to blow the game and a chance for a sweep.
It's time for Buck Showalter to put Mike Gonzalez into the closer role. Gonzalez has previous closing experience in Atlanta and Pittsburgh, recording 55 career saves in 3 years having the closer/shared closer role. Gonzalez has a career 2.68 ERA in 312 appearances and has been a consistently good reliever over the course of his career.
The Orioles signed Gonzalez during the offseason for $12 million over 2 years. They signed him to be the closer. They did not sign Koji Uehara to be the closer, they signed him to be a starter for the 2009 season and he struggled while battling injuries. When you are a small market team, you can not pay a guy $6 million a year and put him in the setup role. If you are going to spend money for a good player, he needs to play the position that he was signed to play, not a lesser spot in the bullpen.
Gonzalez has done nothing but perform since he has come back from his injury from the beginning of the year. Since coming off the DL in July, Gonzalez has posted a 2.87 ERA and looked absolutely nasty in all but two outings. Gonzalez has recorded 17 strikeouts in his15.2 innings since returning from the DL as all of his pitches have been on.
The Orioles are not going to make an impact in the postseason this year, but O's fans still want to see the Birds win games. It is always fun to play the role of spoiler to teams such as the Yankees, and putting Uehara in the game in the 9th to put it away is not the way to beat good teams. It is time that Showalter makes Gonzalez the closer so Orioles fans are not biting their fingernails every time Uehara comes in the game with a one-run lead in the 9th inning. As an Orioles fan, I would like to see the Orioles have a lights-out guy in the 9th, and they can get that in Gonzalez.
Since Showalter has become the manager of the Orioles on August 3rd, the Orioles are 21-14. That is the third best record in baseball during that time span. Pretty impressive for a team that was 32-73 before Showalter started. The Orioles have shown that with Showalter as manager, they have what it takes to be a good team. With a team that could potentially be a winner next year, why don't the Orioles put their best reliever in the closing role. It's time to put Mike Gonzalez in the game in the 9th, because if they don't, they have no shot at being a winner next year.