As Zack Britton sat in the bullpen and patiently waited for an opportunity in the Orioles’ 2016 wild-card game against the Toronto Blue Jays, a voice called out, telling him to get in the game.

It wasn’t bullpen coach Dom Chiti. It was Adam Jones, the O’s center fielder.

“Put yourself in the game!” Jones yelled.

Britton could barely hear the five-time All-Star over the raucous Toronto crowd.

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“I was like, ‘Is he telling me to put myself in the game?’” Britton recalled. “In my head, I’m like, ‘Can you even … has that ever been done?’”

Britton, who joined “The Adam Jones Podcast” a week after announcing his retirement in an interview with The Athletic, has recounted the story before. In fact, he’s been asked to discuss that fateful game many times over the last seven years.

“That question came up once a week, my whole career in New York [with the Yankees],” Britton said. “Somebody brought it up. A national writer coming in wanted to talk about it, or we’re on a nationally televised game and somebody wants to bring it up.”

Then-Orioles manager Buck Showalter has never really given a satisfactory answer as to why he chose to bring in starter Ubaldo Jiménez, who registered a 5.44 ERA that year, instead of his All-Star closer with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning. Three batters into his outing, Jiménez surrendered a walk-off home run to Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnación, ending the O’s season.

“Buck’s not gonna talk about it,” Britton said. “I don’t really talk about it either because I’m not Buck. Eventually I’m sure he’ll say something about it, or he might not. It has been a question that’s stuck. It’s been asked of me everywhere I’ve gone, and I’ve basically just kinda gave the same answer.”

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Orioles manager Buck Showalter pats Zack Britton on the back after a September 2017 game at the New York Yankees. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

What is that answer?

“Buck had this thought process that most of the time worked out. It really did. I just think that he stuck with, ‘Hey, this is my game plan.’ And it didn’t line up and he didn’t pull the trigger on it. And that’s how he managed. I wasn’t necessarily surprised that I didn’t pitch. I mean, I was frustrated, and I think everybody was. But I wasn’t necessarily surprised because there was something that he saw that he didn’t like. He didn’t think that was my situation; he thought that was Ubaldo’s.”

The wild-card head scratcher was a disappointing finale to an otherwise remarkable 2016 season in which the 28-year-old pitched to a 0.54 ERA, allowed just one home run and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. Britton, a former starter who used his otherworldly sinker to transform himself into a dominant reliever, still recalls then-Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson’s attempts to coax him into a bullpen role in the offseason before the 2014 campaign.

“Brady was like, ‘Hey man, Billy Wagner. You ever watch Billy Wagner close?’” Britton remembers. “I was like, ‘I never watch closers. I wanna be Tom Glavine.’ He was like, ‘You’re not gonna be Tom Glavine.’”

Britton began the season in the bullpen. When closer Tommy Hunter struggled, Showalter had to choose between Britton and submariner Darren O’Day as a replacement.

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“Buck called us in one day, me and Darren, and was like, ‘Hey, next save opportunity’s gonna be one of you two. Be ready for it.’” Britton said. “One thing led to another. I got the call and kinda ran with it. I think that’s what you gotta do, right? You get an opportunity, you gotta run with it, because you might only get one shot at it.”

A casualty of Baltimore’s disastrous 2018 season, Britton was dealt to the Yankees, the team with which he’d finish his playing career. But the Orioles, who drafted him out of Texas’ Weatherford High School in 2006, still hold a special place in Britton’s heart.

“I spent so much of my life in the Oriole organization, around Maryland, so I consider that area almost like my home, and those people around there family,” he said.

As for his next chapter, Britton wouldn’t rule out a return to baseball in a front office role.

“I would like to help build a team,” he said. “I’m not sure I want to coach. But I would love the opportunity to maybe build a World Series-caliber team, obviously with other great people. But I’m not so sure that’s in the immediate future. Right now it’s gonna be about the kids.”

paul.mancano@thebaltimorebanner.com

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