A few years ago a friend of mine was able to score some tickets off of a player for the Washington Redskins vs. Baltimore Ravens game at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. It was a frigidly cold December day, and in fact the game ended up being a Sunday night national telecast. I assumed that since the tickets came from a player they’d be pretty decent seats; go figure, they were two rows from the top. At kickoff it was 20 degrees and there was a 40 MPH wind blowing in our faces. Needless to say, we were pretty miserable the entire time. I sang Foreigner’s Cold as Ice in my head the entire night…I bring this up because the blood in tonight’s Baltimore Orioles’ starter Miguel Gonzalez‘s veins are just that.
Gonzalez has been as solid as anyone can be down the stretch in the second half of the season. While technically a rookie he’s also a journeyman after being selected by Anaheim, undergoing Tommy John’s surgery, being selected by Boston in the Rule 5 draft, and then signing with the Orioles as a free agent in March. He’s been unfazed by almost everything thus far…however tonight’s game will be a totally new experience for him given the stage. I’ll get back to that in a moment, however Gonzalez has 17 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched against New York this year. Fanning 17 Bronx Bombers is no joke. Speaking for myself, I’ve been most impressed with Gonzalez’s ability to change speeds effectively and thus to keep hitters on their toes. Just when they’re assuming the heat’s coming, Gonzalez will pull a string and give them a change up to get them out.
However pitching in the postseason is a different animal than pitching in a regular season game. Gonzalez of course saw fellow rookie Wei-Yin Chen has no problems doing it on Monday night, however everyone’s a bit different. No matter how outwardly cool Gonzalez may appear, there will be butterflies in his stomach (even if only a few). Even some of the greatest pitchers of all time have gotten nervous going into a postseason game. It’s how Gonzalez will deal with those butterflies that will make the difference. With yesterday’s off day, Buck Showalter also has a rested bullpen (as does Joe Girardi), which always bodes well in the postseason. I’ve said this before, however postseason games are all about winning as opposed to winning and trying to get your starter the victory. Often times starting pitchers will only pitch four innings if they struggle just a bit. In the National League you’ll often see managers pinch hit for their starting pitcher in the 4th or 5th inning so as to try to get a run in. So the fact that the Orioles have such a great bullpen is something that’s most definitely in their favor.
The big news out of New York’s camp is that Alex Rodriguez is struggling at the plate. Many people are calling for him to be dropped in the batting order which might make the lineup more stable and ultimately alleviate some of the pressure on Rodriguez. Thus far in the series Rodriguez is 1-for-9, and he ignobly struck out to end Monday night’s game. Jim Johnson used a slider low and in to get Rodriguez in that situation. As I said above, I’m impressed with Gonzalez’s ability to change speeds; the slider low and in might come in handy on ARod and company tonight.
Gonzalez will be opposed by Hiroki Kuroda tonight, who went 16-11 on the regular season. Both of these starters have similar ERA’s (Gonzalez with a 3.25 and Kuroda with a 3.32), so it might come down to whomever deals with the pressure better. While Gonzalez has never pitched on this stage before, there’s nothing I’ve seen in him that would indicate that he won’t be that same cool customer he’s been throughout the second half of the season. I’ve seen it before, it happens all the time! The winner of tonight’s game will take a commanding 2-1 lead in this series. I say “commanding” because one way or the other tomorrow night’s game will be an elimination game for someone. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:37 PM, as is tomorrow’s game although it could be pushed back to 8:37 depending on what happens in other series’. If the series goes to a game 5, it’s scheduled to start at 5:07 PM on Friday afternoon. Again, depending on other series’ that could be moved back to 8:07. What’s Buck Showalter said all season though?…one game at a time.