A lot of people aren’t fond of the new playoff system whereby the two wild card teams play in an automatic game seven in the first game of the playoffs. If you’re the Texas Rangers this morning that might be your mindset. However even had the game broken differently, I think the Baltimore Orioles would have been happy just to have said they were in the playoffs. Nevertheless as the title indicates, summertime is going to last just a bit longer in the Baltimore area, as the Orioles defeated Texas 5-1 last night at Rangers Ballpark.
Many people raised their eyebrows when Buck Showalter announced Joe Saunders as the starter for this game. Coming in, Saunders was 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA for his career at Rangers Ballpark. Some folks were screaming for Steve Johnson to get this start so as to avoid Saunders’ apparent struggles deep in the heart of Texas. I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again this morning; I support Showalter’s decision. First off Johnson’s knee wasn’t 100% (although he was available in relief). However I’m not sure that an elimination game would have been the best place to give someone their fifth major league start.
Whatever his motives for starting Saunders, Showalter was right again. Saunders’ line: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K. There were a few times when Saunders got into some minor trouble, however he always seemed to be able to reach back and get the pitch he needed over for a strike. He commanded the inside corner like a crafty old pro, leaving Texas hitters guessing all night. Here’s a big key to the game defensively for the Birds: Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton went a combined 0-for-8. That’s huge for the Orioles, who were haunted by those two in the teams’ regular season meetings. You can’t say enough about the job the Oriole bullpen did last night either, as Darren O’Day pitched two solid innings, and Brian Matusz might have gotten the biggest strikeout of the season when he came in with two outs in the 8th and a runner at second and struck out Josh Hamilton on three straight pitches.
Nate McLouth gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead early after reaching on an error, stealing second base, and then scoring on J.J. Hardy‘s RBI-single. Texas came right back with two on base in the last of the 1st, however they were only able to muster one run on Josh Hamilton’s double-play. Speaking of good pitching, Yu Darvish was all he was advertised to be. He stymied Oriole bats for most of his outing. However in the top of the 6th the Orioles covered the corners with nobody out after singles by Hardy and Chris Davis. Adam Jones‘ sac fly-RBI scored Hardy, and suddenly the Birds led 2-1 in what to that point was a pitcher’s duel. However any savy person probably figured that more runs would be needed to win this one with how the ball can fly in Texas.
Robert Andino scored in the 7th on McLouth’s RBI-single, and in the top of the ninth Andino followed a Jim Thome walk with a double off the scoreboard in left field. Manny Machado singled Lew Ford (who pinch ran for Thome) home, and Andino scored on on another McLouth sac fly. So going to the last of the ninth the Birds led 5-1. One key in my mind at the time was Matusz’s above-mentioned strikeout of Josh Hamilton to end the 8th. That meant that the Orioles and Jim Johnson only had to deal with Beltre as opposed to both of them in the 9th. Beltre flied out, however with two down suddenly Texas had the bases loaded with the tying run at the plate in the form of David Murphy. The baseball Gods wouldn’t be so cruel as to let this slip away from the O’s at that late hour, would they? Not with “Dirty Jim” Johnson on the mound; Murphy flied out to left, and the Orioles were onto the ALDS.
There are so many story lines to this game that you don’t know where to begin. First off it’s worth saying again that the Orioles were supposed to lose 100 games. However it’s also worth mentioning that Joe Saunders, who grew up an Oriole fan, became the first Oriole pitcher to win a postseason game in 15 years. And then there’s Buck Showalter…who was fired by the Texas Rangers after the 2006 season before coming to Baltimore towards the end of 2010. However both of those guys will probably say that it was a team effort to win this game and move on. I’m not big on the champagne baths that come with baseball celebrations, however I suppose that the Orioles were due for something like that, especially seeing that they’re the only team in the playoffs that didn’t get to celebrate on the field while clinching a playoff spot.
So again, summer’s not quite over in Baltimore. The Orioles will now play a familiar foe in the NY Yankees in the best-of-five ALDS. Game one is tomorrow evening at 6:15 PM at Camden Yards. In fact, games one and two are at the yard, until the series shifts to New York on Wednesday for the final three games (games four and five if necessary of course). As we know, the two teams split their regular season series with each team winning nine. Someone’s going to win three more in the postseason. Certainly the Orioles will be underdogs, however the hope is that they can finish what they started in trying to catch New York in the regular season. Actually, strike that thought…they’ll try to finish what they started against New York in the 1996 postseason.