Domenic Vadala: Anatomy of a comeback

We all saw what happened Friday night, as the Orioles came back and defeated the Minnesota Twins after being down 6-0. Six runs isn’t the greatest comeback of all time, however there’s certainly a difference between that and being down by one or two. I think that in all sports there comes a point in a game where a team feels somewhat secure in its lead. In the NFL, I’d say that a 21-point lead is fairly safe, and the same would be true of a 15-point lead in the NBA. Minnesota had the equivalent of those types of leads Friday against the Orioles, but the Birds bucked the trend and came back to win.

How does that happen?

First off, let’s be honest about this: There is just a little bit of luck involved. I don’t want to take anything away from what the Orioles did or from what any team in that position does, but at some point along the way you have to catch a break. Keep in mind that catching a break is often contingent upon taking advantage of it. Trevor Plouffe committed an error in the Orioles’ three-run seventh inning Friday, scoring Nate McLouth. There’s a break for the Orioles; certainly, the Twins could have recorded three outs following that and not truly taken advantage of the break they had been afforded. However, Nick Markakis singled home another run and Chris Davis’ RBI double scored Markakis.

The anatomy of a comeback win is more mindset than anything else. These are the Fighting Showalters, right? The mark of this team is that the Orioles just don’t give up, and they play to the final out. Even in Saturday’s loss in Minnesota, the Orioles continued to fight and scrap once Minnesota took the bull by the horns. Your goal in every at-bat should be to get on base and to do something while you’re on. If you think you’re going to go up to the plate and look at three pitches so you can sit back down, you aren’t going to last long in the big leagues. The Orioles don’t have guys who feel that way.

In effect, you have to be headstrong in order to have a chance at coming back like that. I recall several times over the past few years (pre-2012) when the O’s would have a lead of that nature and end up losing. Somehow, it seemed that Boston and New York were the usual suspects against whom the Orioles couldn’t hold large leads, but that’s beside the point. The Orioles always came across as somewhat tentative in that they were almost afraid of their own success. This is where you get into the mechanics of the game moreso than the mindset, but if you’re leading 6-0 and you have David Ortiz at the plate with two on and two out, the tendency might be to nibble on the corners a bit. Instead, a pitcher needs to attack the strike zone and try to induce a ground ball in the infield or a pop fly. Often times, the Orioles would end up walking the batter in that situation because the pitcher would be afraid of getting beat, and the next guy would stroke a two-RBI single down the line.

I don’t know the Twins well enough to say that they weren’t headstrong enough to hold the lead. It seems like they have a great group of players there, so I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that they were afraid of their own success. (They were also coming off an 11-game road trip.) However, you always have to play to the final out whether you’re winning or losing. If you’re up 6-0 with two outs in the ninth inning, you still have to attack the strike zone and play for keeps, just as if you were down. For all you know, the other team could have a seven-run inning before you can record that one out. I think that the odds of that happening are slim, but stranger things have happened. You can’t just throw yourself into neutral and coast.

If you’re looking for a formula for a comeback win, I’m not sure there is one. However, I suppose that a mixture of being tough-minded, not giving in, sound mechanics and a touch of good luck could go a long way toward helping a team come from behind in a game. And when all else fails, there’s always tomorrow!

Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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