Athletics 10, Orioles 3
-- He has felt the tap on the back of his shoulder numerous times after a bad outing, when a manager called the pitcher into an office and delivered heartbreaking news that changed his life and nearly derailed his dream. It was never good for Baltimore Orioles pitcher Tim Byrdak when he felt that tap because he knew it meant yet another demotion, or another trip to the minors, or worse yet, another release.
"Whenever you pitched bad, you were waiting for that tap on the back of the shoulder," Byrdak said.
That tap was the reason he took the ball when Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo brought the reliever into the game in the seventh inning of Baltimore's 10-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics and it was the same reason, why, with his pride dented and his shoulder aching, Byrdak told Baltimore he could simply not pitch anymore in the next few days.
"It was one of those things today where I had to say something," Byrdak said. "I'm never like that. When he came to me today and asked [if I could pitch], I knew in my heart that I didn't have what I needed to have to be successful."
There are still reasons to cheer for this team, which has stumbled so badly in the standings, and they begin with Byrdak, a 31-year-old journeyman pitcher who has earned the respect of his teammates and the front office. But Sunday's performance worried Byrdak, who allowed three runs in Oakland's six-run seventh inning that decided the game. It was an ugly inning for the Orioles, who walked five batters, hit another and had a wild pitch in that frame. Byrdak, who has felt fatigue in his shoulder for more than a week, was responsible for three of those walks and the hit batter and the wild pitch.
"Today, I was embarrassed to be out there and pitch how I did," he said.
So before anyone could come and give him that painful tap on the shoulder, Byrdak, whose ERA inflated to 4.79 after the bad outing, walked into the manager's office and did something that was more painful than throwing with a sore shoulder. He asked Perlozzo for some rest.
"I've worked so hard to get to this point, you never want to say you don't want the ball," said Byrdak, who pitched a season in the independent Northern League. "You don't want a label saying, 'This guy can't handle the workload of a season.' That's one of those things that was in the back of my mind. Going into this offseason I don't want them to have any doubts."
Some play because their multimillion dollar contract forces them to do so, others because they hope to earn one of those cushy contracts to secure themselves for life, Byrdak plays to simply earn a job for next year. Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie said he admired Byrdak's candor and said, perhaps, the left-handed reliever shouldn't have worried at all.
"You understand when players can't play," Beattie said. "And that's the toughest thing. That's not the Tim Byrdak we've seen in the past. He's been a very reliable arm in our bullpen. I think he handled it extremely well. We've seen the crispness of his stuff and when his arm has been tired, like it has been for the last couple days, you don't see it."
For the Orioles -- who have lost eight of nine games, have been outscored 26-7 in the three losses to Oakland and are now a season-low seven games under .500 -- Byrdak is the smallest concern.
"It's tough for the club to see the success you had early on and to see the results now and how tough it is to get a base hit and how tough it is to score runs," Beattie said. "I don't know if I've ever seen it like this where you have a club that's done so well and then end up in this situation right now for the last couple of months. You think what can I do now? Every day you think what can we do right now?"
Perlozzo said he hasn't yet found a reason to discipline his players. He still sees a team hoping for wins and a team trying to get out of its slump. The manager is convinced his team hasn't quit and perhaps there is no better example than Byrdak.
"Yell at them for what?" Perlozzo said. "For not getting a hit? When they quit trying and get lazy I'll yell at all of them."
For now, there will be no taps on the shoulder for anyone on this team.