Jim Johnson didn’t record 51 saves for the Baltimore Orioles in the regular season by having off nights. For the most part it would generally be good morning, good afternoon, and good night when Johnson would enter games this year in the 9th inning with the lead. However one minor difference in his appearance in last night’s ALDS game one against New York was that the Orioles didn’t have the lead when he entered the game. Not that it mattered too much, but the game was tied 2-2 in the top of the 9th, which is why I found it odd that Buck Showalter would call for the closer. Unfortunately Johnson wasn’t really on his game last night, and five runs later New York led 7-2.
To his credit Johnson didn’t offer excuses afterwards, which has become a mark of this team when dealing with adversity. Johnson said that he made some mistakes by hanging pitches and missing his spots. The good news is that as is the case with all things you have to look at the overall body of work. Johnson’s track record indicates that this is a bit of an anomaly, and the next time out he should be his normal self. And Buck Showalter isn’t the type of manager that would even hesitate to give Johnson the ball in a save situation either. (Again, when Johnson entered last night’s game it wasn’t a save situation because the score was tied; Johnson was tagged with the loss.)
Johnson gets the publicity in this case, however in fairness there were a lot of things in this game that happened well before he arrived on the scene. First off, let me say that the atmosphere at Camden Yards was electric last night and that’s to the credit of the Orioles’ fans. I’ve been at a lot of games since the ballpark opened in 1992, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it quite that loud. The two-hour plus rain delay plus the cold didn’t help either team, however the weather can be the great equalizer in the playoffs because both teams have to deal with the conditions. Jason Hammel was about as clutch as a starting pitcher can be in October. Hammel’s line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K. Keep in mind that Hammel was making only his third start since July after knee surgery. He gave up one run in the first inning but pitched out of a jam early. I feel that the cold did affect him just a bit…at first. He seemed to settle down very nicely after the first inning.
The Orioles took the lead in the last of the 3rd following Chris Davis‘s lead off single followed by another off the bat of Lew Ford. They were sacrificed to second base by Robert Andino, which brought Nate McLouth to the plate. McLouth’s two-RBI single gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead and sent Camden Yards into a frenzy. However New York came right back in the 4th when Alex Rodriguez scored on Mark Teixeira‘s RBI-double off the scoreboard in right field. And there we sat at 2-2…for quite some time. Part of that was due to the mastery of NY starter CC Sabathia. When the guy’s on, he’s on without a doubt. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pitcher throw 120 pitches in a postseason game. From the Orioles’ standpoint you obviously wish that you could have put some runs up on Sabathia, however the fact is that they were shut down by a Cy Young caliber pitcher.
Sabathia appeared to tire in the last of the 7th, which is one reason I was surprised manager Joe Girardi sent him back out in the 8th. J.J. Hardy led off with a double, which put a runner in scoring position with nobody out. However the Orioles were retired after Adam Jones struck out, Matt Wieters fouled out, and Mark Reynolds grounded out. That was the game in a nutshell at that moment. In total the Orioles went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, which came back to haunt them. To add further insult, Sabathia came back out to pitch the last of the 9th after being given a five-run lead. He was only removed after allowing a runner to second base and Girardi brought in David Robertson to get the final out.
Obviously the score is not indicative of how close this game was, however in the postseason it’s not about how well you play it’s about the bottom line result. The Orioles now trail in the best-of-five series 0-1, with tonight’s game at Camden Yards looming huge. The last thing the Orioles want to do is to put themselves in a situation where they need to sweep three games in a row at Yankee Stadium in order to advance. However a win tonight puts them right back in the thick of the series and they would go to New York tied at one game a piece (and with a game four on Thursday guaranteed). The Orioles will send Wei-Yin Chen to the mound tonight, and I would assume he’ll be on a short leash given that he’s appeared to have tired a bit down the stretch in September. He’ll be opposed by Andy Pettitte, who’s postseason resume is of course long and storied. So a rookie is taxed with going out and beating a future hall of famer…no problem, right? Then again, the 2012 Orioles are noted for going to heights they weren’t supposed to be able to reach.