I’m sure that somewhere in the heart of Yankee Stadium in New York last night there were several carts full of champagne on ice that were to be wheeled into the home clubhouse assuming that New York took care of business with the Orioles. When all was said and done last night – or more realistically early this morning – that champagne had to be stored away at the very least for another day. In fact, they might want to move it someplace where it would be accessible to both clubhouses, as the Orioles defeated the New York Yankees 2-1 in 13 innings. That knots the American League Division Series at two games a piece, causing a deciding game five late this afternoon at 5 PM.
I heard an interesting comment this week out of ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland native and lifelong Oriole fan. He said that Buck Showalter “forced them [the Orioles] to stand up to the Yankees.” He wasn’t talking about in this series or this season, he’s talking about overall. Over the years I think that the Orioles had almost become complacent in the fact that the New York Yankees were…the New York Yankees. Heck, I think most of baseball (with the exception of the Boston Red Sox) might have become complacent in that concept. However Buck Showalter put a stop to that on the Orioles’ side. He mandated that the Orioles stand up and force New York to at least respect them. If they didn’t respect them before this week, one would have to think that they do now.
In what seems like ages ago, Joe Saunders started last night’s game and was incredibly effective. Saunders’ line: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K. When Showalter emerged from the dugout to lift him Saunders was visibly upset. The guy’s a gamer and a competitor, and there’s no doubt that he wanted to stay in to help the team. (I think it’s also worth mentioning again that Saunders is a native of this region; he was traded here in August, and perhaps there’s a bit of added incentive to pitch for the team he grew up following.) However he did plenty good while he was in the game. In keeping with what Orioles pitchers have been doing for most of the series, Saunders stayed on the black of the plate. Years ago the Orioles had pitchers such as Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez who were nibblers by trait which got them in trouble. The difference is that this past week Oriole pitchers have nibbled and been good at it, which has gottten a lot of NY batters out.
One big concern is that the Orioles’ offense looks lost at times at the plate. Adam Jones and Chris Davis seem to be swinging early and often at anything that’s offered up there. Jones seems to be drawing the ire of a lot of fans for this, however he’s also made some productive outs this series. Furthermore, I do cut players a bit of a break when competing in the postseason for the first time. It’s easy to point out that Derek Jeter seems to consistently deliver and so forth, but Jeter’s played almost an entire season in the playoffs. The MLB postseason is a totally different animal than the regular season, and it can often make goats of newbies. Alex Rodriguez on the other hand…
The O’s took the lead in the top of the 5th when Nate McLouth broke a scoreless tie with a deep home run to right field. There’s really no measuring how much the addition of McLouth has meant to this team at the end of the season. I’ll go more into that once all is said and done this year, but he’s been clutch. Just to show he wasn’t kidding, in the bottom of the inning McLouth ran down a Jason Nix line drive towards the left field wall and managed to double Russell Martin off of first base. One could look at that as virtually as good as scoring another run. However in the 6th Robinson Cano‘s ground out scored Derek Jeter, tying the game at 1.
The big concern coming out of this game is that the Orioles emptied their bullpen. Some guys such as Patton, Ayala, Matusz, and Hunter only pitched part of an inning. However Darren O’Day pitched 2.2 innings along with Pedro Strop‘s two full innings. However that’s a big part of postseason baseball; the all-hands-on-deck mentality. And the bullpen came up HUGE last night, getting the Orioles out of numerous jams. Pedro Strop appeared to get his groove back as he gave up only one hit over two innings. And luckily Oriole bats found just a bit of a groove as well. Manny Machado led off the 13th with a double, and was moved to third base on Nate McLouth’s sacrifice ground out. That brought J.J. Hardy to the plate, who delivered a clutch RBI-double scoring Machado. Aother beleaguered Oriole reliever, Jim Johnson, seemed to find his groove as well in the last of the 13th, as he got New York 1-2-3 to end the game.
If there was ever a game that had the feel of a playoff game, it was this one. There’s nothing better than two titans slugging it out in the postseason. Going back to the bullpen issue for a moment, New York blew through theirs as well. Furthermore, Joba Chamberlein was hit by a flying piece of Matt Wieters‘ bat in the 12; X-rays show he has contusion of some sort. Odds are he won’t be available this afternoon, which means that New York will have a short bullpen. So it boils down to this…game five against the New York Yankees in the Bronx. A loss sends the Orioles home, and a win sends them to Detroit on Saturday night for game 1 of the ALCS. They’ll send Jason Hammel to the bump to be opposed by C.C. Sabathia. For the record, the Orioles are 2-0 in elimination games this year!