There isn’t much you can say about the Baltimore Orioles’ 3-2 loss to the NY Yankees last night in 12 innings other than the fact that weird things seem to happen at Yankee Stadium. And they generally happen in favor of the home team. With Alex Rodriguez hitting 1-for-the series, manager Joe Girardi inserted Raul Ibanez as a pinch-hitter in the last of the 9th inning in place of ARod. Like he had done last week against Boston, Ibanez deposited a pitch deep into the right field bleachers to tie the game. They had the guts to pinch hit for the $30 million man and the guy homered?! Not only that, but he followed that up with a 12th inning homer that won the game and put the Orioles in a 2-1 hole in the best-of-five series, setting up a do-or-die situation tonight.
Of course lost in this fiasco is the effort that Miguel Gonzalez put forth last night. Gonzalez’s line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K. As I said yesterday, Gonzalez has been great at changing speeds when the opposition least expects it. Last night was no exception. The New York hitters looked lost out there against Gonzalez, who once again proved to have ice water in his veins. The same is true of Darren O’Day, who came in and pitched the 8th inning and struck out one batter.
The Birds took a 1-0 lead in the 3rd inning when Ryan Flaherty sent a shot deep to right field and over the wall. With two outs in the last of the inning and Russel Martin at third base Derrek Jeter sent a shot towards center. Adam Jones drifted back and appeared to misplay the ball a bit, granting Jeter an RBI-triple and tying the game. In monitoring my twitter feed, many fans were outraged at the fact that Jones was blowing a bubble with his gum just as the ball was coming in. Jones was playing too shallow and he didn’t get back in time (although you’d be hard-pressed to think that Jeter would hit the ball over anyone’s head at this point in his career), however anyone that knows Jones knows that the bubble had nothing to do with it. Jones makes plays while chomping on gum all the time.
The Orioles continued their impressive rookie performance when Manny Machado broke the 1-1 tie with a homer of his own into the Orioles’ bullpen to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Afterwards I sent out a tweet saying that the Orioles needed more runs. Part of the Yankee mystique are their fans, who will automatically come to life and get behind the team when necessary. Certainly every fan base will do that, but there’s just something about the Bronx in tight situations where more often than not the home team is going to find some way to win. When Jim Johnson‘s pitch went over the wall, he registered his fourth blown save of the season. When Brian Matusz‘s pitch (Matusz gave up the winning homer) went over the wall it broke a streak of 16 consecutive Oriole wins in extra innings, and it became the first time this season that the O’s had suffered a walk off loss. (All of this assuming you lump postseason and regular season statistics into one.)
Again in monitoring twitter after the game I saw a lot of different reactions to this from Orioles fans. Some people were calling them chokers, among other things. Others were saying that Matusz should have walked Ibanez. As Buck Showalter would say, “really?!” Folks, you have to be a bit more cerebral than that. First off, walking Ibanez in that situation puts the winning run on base. If you pitch to him you have a shot at getting him out. If you walk him, you don’t. Oh, but…wouldn’t that be better than a walk off homer? Yes, of course. But had the Orioles known that Ibanez was going to hit a walk off homer, don’t you think they would have considered walking him? Again, we have to be cerebral about this. You can never allow “them” to see you sweat. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other guy and move along. Furthermore, the Orioles cannot be labeled as chokers. You don’t win 16 consecutive extra-inning games and then when you drop one have people say you choked. As I said, sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other guy and move on. The only acceptable response here is you just have to be better. Brian Matusz and Jim Johnson know that, Buck Showalter knows that, and the rest of the team knows that. If the players allow themselves to get overly emotional about this, New York will use that to their advantage in the game tonight.
This sets up a do-0r-die situation in tonight’s game. The Orioles need to win in order to set up a game 5 tomorrow. A loss would mean the end of the line. One stat that’s definitely in the Orioles’ favor is that they’re already 1-0 in elimination games this year. And go figure, the same guy – Joe Saunders – who started that game will be on the mound at Yankee Stadium tonight. One would assume that Saunders will once again be on a short leash, especially given that Chris Tillman was also a candidate to start this game. Might Tillman be available in long relief if Saunders struggles early? Anything’s possible, especially in this kind of situation. Saunders will be opposed by Phil Hughes of New York. By virtue of Oakland evening their series with Detroit late last night, the Orioles game tonight will begin at 7:37 PM. Win or go home folks…this could be the final game or we could play on.