Wieters' bat, glove key to O's success
Catcher has been driving force behind club's march to postseason
BALTIMORE -- Here's the definition of a terrific young catcher, the kind around which a team can be built:
Gold Glove-caliber defense. An inquisitive mind that devours information on opposing hitters, thus gaining for the catcher the confidence of his own pitching staff. And an offensive game that makes him a middle-of-the-order threat.
The really good news for the Baltimore Orioles is that someone fitting that exact description is already on their roster. That would be Matt Wieters. He is only 26, but he has already been named to two American League All-Star teams. He has won a Gold Glove, but he has also won the trust of the Baltimore pitchers and the admiration of seemingly everyone in the Orioles' organization.
Wieters is one of the main reasons that the Orioles are in an American League Division Series, not that he is taking any credit. Everybody else wearing an Orioles uniform gets the picture.
Before Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees on Monday night, O's manager Buck Showalter, asked about Wieters' role in the development of Baltimore's young, but obviously improved pitching staff, replied:
"Every once in a while you have to remind yourself how old he is." the skipper said. "Matt is very wise, and he has a lot of confidence. I think he creates a lot of confidence because of the work he puts in, and the pitchers all know where his priorities are.
"He knows that; he does the math of four at-bats, 140, 150 decisions a night behind the plate."
A national television audience on Sunday night got to see Wieters' athleticism, which is particularly remarkable from a man 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. The Yankees pulled away in the ninth inning, but one of the reasons Game 1 of this series was tied after eight innings was Wieters' defense.
He threw out Ichiro Suzuki attempting to steal third in the first inning, stopping a Yankee inning at one run. It was a play in the seventh, however, that caught the imagination. Wieters scooped a throw in the dirt from second baseman Robert Andino, then made a sweep tag on Yankees catcher Russell Martin for the out. It was a play that would have been difficult at any base, but making the clean catch with the catcher's mitt put this play in the real highlights reel.
"I mean, the play he made on the short hop from Robert, a lot of people I'm sure think that's easy," Showalter said. "That's a remarkable play. But fortunately we get to see something like that every night. He made a pick of a short hop earlier that [bench coach] John Russell and I just looked at each other and went: 'Really?' Go grab a mitt and try to do that with a catcher's mitt.
"He does something every night where I just kind of go: 'That's pretty special.' Best catcher I've ever had, and [I'm] real lucky to have had him pass my way."
While much of the baseball world has expressed more than mild surprise about the Orioles' success this season, Wieters was way out in front on his team's potential. As early as Spring Training, Wieters and Chris Davis were saying that merely finishing .500 was not suitable and that reaching the World Series was a reasonable expectation.
What did Wieters know that the rest of the world didn't?
"I think it was more of our attitude," Wieters said on Monday in an interview session at Camden Yards. It was not a, 'This is what we think this team can do this year,' it was we believed it and believed that if we go out there and just keep playing, no matter what your record is, no matter how many games you've won or lost lately, you've got a chance to win that night.
"We added some veterans in Wilson Betemit and [Luis] Ayala, and guys like that who had been there before and done it. We were able to get a great pickup late in the year in Jim Thome. It's just sort of that professional attitude they bring to the clubhouse every day of just going to get your work in, putting it all on the line when the game comes around, and then you live with the results."
In the world of big league catchers, Wieters has moved even beyond the emerging star category into the elite at his position. This kind of thing, though, is of no immediate interest to him. This October, with these Baltimore Orioles, he has larger issues on his mind.
"You know, that's what's been so great about this year is you don't have to worry about individual accolades or individual awards," Wieters said. "This is what everybody in the clubhouse wants to play for. It's nice to get honored by your peers and get honored by people in the game, but at the same time you're playing for the playoffs, playing for a ring, and that's ultimately what you want your career to sort of be based on."
The Orioles' dramatic improvement and the admirable contributions Wieters has already made, point toward a future of collective success for this club, combined with plenty of personal accolades for Matt Wieters, whether he wants them or not.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.