One of the most surprising performances of the Orioles' postseason run may have come in Game 4 of the American League Division Series.
Needing a win to force a Game 5 with the Yankees, the Orioles got it, and their victory in 13 innings included two shutout innings from reliever Pedro Strop.
Many fans had to be nervous when Strop took the mound in the last of the 11th with the season riding on the outcome. Strop struggled badly late in the year but, on that night, when nothing less than shutdown innings would do, Strop pitched scoreless ball in the 11th and 12th and the O's won it in the 13th.
That effective outing was surprising because of Strop's struggles which began Aug. 27. From that point to the end of the regular season, Strop pitched 9 2/3 innings, allowing 18 hits, 10 walks and nine earned runs. His ERA jumped from 1.43 to 2.44.
After being scored on in just seven of 55 games up to that late August date, Strop allowed at least one run in seven of his last 15 appearances before the playoffs.
His overall numbers for the year were strong. He finished 5-2 with that 2.44 ERA. Over 66 1/3 innings, Strop gave up just 52 hits with 37 walks, 58 strikeouts and a .217 batting average against.
Did Strop tire at the end of the year? That is quite possible, although his final tally of 66 1/3 innings was in line with his innings totals from 2009 (71), 2010 (53) and 2011 (69 2/3).
Did Strop have mechanical issues that caused him problems and led to ineffectiveness and possibly a loss of confidence? In this mid-September interview, Strop said that was the case.
So which Strop can the Orioles expect next year? The at times dominant setup man who worked most of the year or the struggling right-hander we saw to end the season? In several late-season games, Darren O'Day inherited Strop's late-game appearances.
If Strop struggled because he tired or had mechanics issues, that can be fixed and Strop can return to the form he showed most of this year. We can't let what we saw in those final 15 games completely overshadowed what the 27-year-old right-hander did for the first 55 games.
Strop remains a key component of the Orioles bullpen in my mind and has earned what Buck Showalter would call "nugget status." He's a young pitcher with a big right arm and plenty of upside and potential for growth. He throws hard and has great stuff and could be a future closer candidate.
For now, I lean toward a feeling that whatever caused Strop's pitching to fall off late in the year will be resolved and that we will again see the Strop that pitched most of the year and in that big game at New York in Game 4 again in 2013.
What do you think?