The bullpen, McFarland’s first win and team chemistry

I find it absolutely shocking that the Orioles are 10 games above .500. Judging by some of the comments here after Wednesday’s loss, I thought the season was over and a managerial change was on the horizon.

The bullpen has been instrumental in these last two victories, both of them against the first-place team in the American League East. A bullpen that Buck Showalter refused to completely torch on Wednesday in order to avoid using Pedro Strop, who had struck out two in a scoreless inning in his first appearance since coming off the disabled list.

Does it make more sense now? It’s a 162-game season. It’s a marathon. It’s baseball.

Or maybe you’re still bitter and in a second-guessing frame of mind. I won’t attempt to change it. Emotions run high. I get it.

The bullpen dominated last year because of the way Showalter managed it. Put those same guys in another set of hands, and you wouldn’t automatically get the same results.

I have no idea when we’ll see Strop in another game, but if using him allows Showalter to lay off guys who shouldn’t pitch, guys who could be lost or ineffective for an extended period if abused, then we’ll see Strop.

T.J. McFarland picked up his first major league win Thursday night by retiring the side in order in the 13th inning. Afterward, Showalter referenced how McFarland had quite a surprise waiting for him in the clubhouse. No specifics were offered up, and McFarland also kept the details private when I approached him yesterday at his locker, but it was the latest reminder that this is an extremely close group.

“I won’t forget it, that’s for sure,” McFarland said. “They were all just happy for me winning my first game and, you know, what happens in here stays in here. I can’t talk about it. But it was just a camaraderie, congratulatory thing.”

It didn’t occur to McFarland that he was the pitcher of record as Chris Davis’ looping single into left field delivered the game-winning run.

“Honestly, I didn’t even recognize it as my first,” he said. “I just thought that we won the game, and it was awesome. When you have a walk-off win like that, everybody rushes the field. I wasn’t thinking about, ‘Wow, this is my first win.’ I was just thinking like, ‘We won the game. This is great.’ And then we charged Davis, and it was fun. Then everybody started saying, ‘Congratulations.’ “

McFarland, the Rule 5 pick from the Indians’ organization, has frequently been held back in games because he’s the designated long man in the bullpen. Either he doesn’t pitch or he enters with the Orioles trailing because the starter got knocked out early. But Thursday night was a different story.

“The game was tied, it was on the line, it was the 13th, so it was a little different than what I had been put into, but it’s all the same,” McFarland said. “You still have to go out there, and you still have to get outs and throw strikes. So yeah, there might be a little more pressure, but it’s still the same game.”

McFarland couldn’t reach his father on the phone after finding out that he had made the team out of spring training. I remember him stepping outside the clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium with a cell phone in his hand, walking back inside and shaking his head, a smile on his face. But he got more than a voicemail in his latest attempt.

“I called my parents,” he said. “They were watching the game. Same as my girlfriend. I was able to call all three of them. They were still up.”

Nate McLouth lifted up Davis after the game-winning hit, re-enacting last year’s scene when Davis hoisted McLouth. Showalter enjoyed the moment while also hoping that McLouth didn’t lose his grip or the feeling in both legs.

“It tells you that they’ve got a good memory, because Nate remembered,” Showalter said. “But I noticed that Chris didn’t really push down too hard on him. He knew what kind of load it was. What’s the saying, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother? Well, he is heavy. But they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s a fun group to be around.

“I’ve said it many times. If I wasn’t their manager, it’s a bunch of guys I’d still like to hang around. I would anyway if they’d have me, but I’m too old to hang out with them.”

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