NEW YORK -- If questioning strategical maneuvers is your thing, then yesterday's matchup between the Orioles and New York Yankees was one of your games.
Both managers went to the bullpen often enough to indicate there was either a fire sale on relief pitchers or a lack of confidence to stay with one any more than necessary. Possibly even, a combination of both.
The Yankees had four pitchers who worked two-thirds of an inning, two of whom struck out the only batters they faced. But as fast as Buck Showalter played the left-right percentages, Johnny Oates went him one better.
The Orioles manager used Alan Mills and Jim Poole to face one hitter each -- and both recorded strikeouts. In all, five of the 10 relievers who were used came out of the game after striking out the last hitter they faced.
But despite all the moves -- Mark Williamson was the only reliever who didn't have immediate success, giving up a tying home run to Jim Leyritz in the eighth inning -- it was one that wasn't made two innings earlier that turned out to be the key to the game. In the eighth inning, Mike Devereaux tripled to put the go-ahead run at third base with one out.
Chris Sabo, who replaced Harold Baines as the designated hitter for the day against Yankees left-hander Jimmy Key, was the next hitter. Showalter immediately replaced right-hander Donn Pall with Bob Wickman, another right-hander.
That gave Oates the option of using Baines, knowing that Showalter could not go to a left-handed pitcher. He chose not to make the counter move and Sabo struck out before Leo Gomez got the run in with a single.
But when it was Sabo's turn to hit again, with two outs in the 10th inning, Baines came out of the dugout. His ground ball single through the middle set in motion a two-run inning that would decide the game.
Why make the move in the 10th inning, but not in the eighth? "Because I wanted to make sure Harold got one whack to win the game," said Oates. "If I hit Harold in the eighth, in my mind I know they're not going to pitch to him -- they're going to put him on and play the infield back and go for the double play.
"With Sabo hitting, they've got to play the infield up," said Oates. "In that situation, I decided I'd rather have Sabo hitting with the infield in than Gomez with the infield back."
It became academic when neither strategy worked -- Sabo struck out, and Gomez got a big hit.
Two innings later Showalter had the option of bringing in Steve Howe to face Baines, but chose not to do so because the left-hander was the last pitcher he had available.
Howe still was available when the game ended -- and Baines' availability in the 10th may have decided the outcome.