Many people have been complaining about the new playoff format which in effect is being used only this year before being refined for the 2013 postseason. You have the single elimination wild card winner getting to play games one and two of the LDS at home before going on the road for the final three games (games four and five if necessary of course). The complaints will really come full circle if a division winner is eliminated in three games. Starting tonight the Baltimore Orioles are going to try to make sure that the New York Yankees have a shot at being that division winner bounced early, as we get set for game one of the ALDS.
Another advantage that’s supposed to be built in for the division winner (regardless of the venue) is that they have more of an opportunity to scout the team they’re going to be playing. However in this case that’s not really an issue because the Orioles and New York know each other very well. They only played 18 times during the regular season (and for what it’s worth they played twice way back in spring training during Grapefruit League play) with each team winning nine games. I can remember years where the O’s would only win between two and five games against NY overall, and now it seems that they’re about as even as they can be.
Ironically, there won’t be quite as much pressure going into this game tonight as there was in Texas on Friday evening. That was a do-or-die situation, and the Birds are guaranteed at least three more games starting tonight. However while the pressure might be alleviated just a bit – for now – the stage has suddenly gotten bigger. I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the last time these two teams met in the playoffs; specifically, the Jeffrey Maier fiasco. Let’s not go into too many details – we all know what happened. However that’s something that neither the Orioles franchise nor the city of Baltimore has ever truly forgotten. Most of the current Orioles weren’t even in professional baseball at that time, however they’ll be the ones taxed with righting that wrong.
However the Maier incident isn’t what sets the stage, nor is it the presence of the Bronx Bombers themselves. The stage is set by just that…the stage. We all know the stakes in his game and the subsequent games of the series. The Orioles need to just play baseball, which is what they’ve done all season long. I truly believe that if they get caught up with the fact that they’re playing NY, they’ll risk losing sight of the games themselves. NY is probably sitting in their clubhouse hoping that the Orioles get caught up in who they’re playing, because that’s when teams like the Bombers pounce.
Having said that, the fans are allowed to get caught up in the moments and in the game. Tonight’s going to bring us a scene unlike anything we’ve seen at the yard in a long time in terms of an atmosphere. There were games over the course of the season where we said there was a “playoff atmosphere” and so forth (the Cal Ripken statue game comes to mind), but I think that what we’ll see tonight from the Camden faithful will stand alone in terms of excitement. This is the first Orioles playoff game in Baltimore in 15 years…something magic is bound to happen, right?!
New York will send their ace CC Sabathia to the mound tonight at Camden Yards. To the Orioles’ chagrin, Sabathia of course is a career 16-2 against them, and 10-1 at Camden Yards at that. HOWEVER, Sabathia went 0-2 in three starts at Camden Yards this season. I suppose on one hand one could argue that Sabathia’s due for a win in Baltimore this season, however you get the idea. The O’s will send Jason Hammel to the mound to oppose Sabathia. Hammel hasn’t pitched since September 11th when he experienced pain in his knee that was surgically repaired in July. However the O’s wouldn’t be where they are without Hammel, and the fact that the bullpen has been so strong has to factor into Buck Showalter’s decision to start him.
Going back to the Orioles fans once more, I really hope that they enjoy this game (as well as tomorrow’s). It’s been so long and these playoff games are so well deserved by this franchise and this city. Here’s another interesting point; New York is used to playing in front of their own fans at Camden Yards. Most of them make their arrangements when tickets go on sale in January and they come to Baltimore en masse. The Orioles sold almost all of the tickets for these games before the opponent was known, and before it was even known if the game would be played. So it would be near impossible for NY fans to get their hands on tickets like they do for regular season series’. How will New York react to what will probably end up being a college football-like atmosphere with them being the target of jeers? The stage is set for an epic series that’s based in the past, but contingent on the present with an eye towards the future.