There was a time not long ago when many predicted Adam Jones and Matt Wieters would eventually be playing postseason baseball at Yankee Stadium.
The only difference in that prophecy was the Orioles’ center fielder and catcher would be wearing the pinstripes of the New York Yankees after moving on from Baltimore in free agency in a few years. Instead, after an improbable 93-win season, the Orioles head to New York tied 1-1 with Game 3 of the American League Division Series set for Wednesday night.
To survive and advance, the Orioles need only to repeat what they did on three separate occasions at Yankee Stadium in the regular season. Winning two of three means Baltimore advances to play either the Detroit Tigers or the Oakland Athletics in the AL Championship Series.
The Orioles were reminded of their 6-3 record at Yankee Stadium often after their 3-2 victory in Game 2 Monday night, but there was no hubris in describing the task in front of them. The club knows it won’t be easy.
“Everything’s heightened now,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to go there [and] win the inning. It’s not [simply saying], ‘Oh, we need to win Game 3.’ It’s not about that. We need to go out and win every inning of Game 3 first.”
Predictably, the Orioles are viewed as the underdog in this series against the playoff-tested Yankees. It’s understandable when remembering Jones and Wieters were still in grade school the last time Baltimore found itself in this position.
But don’t tell the Orioles they’re the young shepherd boy carrying a sling and a stone into battle against the powerful giant in the Bronx. The analogy doesn’t apply in their minds after finishing only two games behind the Yankees in the AL East and tying the season series at 9-9 this year.
“The David and Goliath or whatever you’re talking about, that’s not something that’s a mentality for us in there,” manager Buck Showalter said. “There are no flukes in baseball. There are no Cinderellas. You play too many games. You play 162 games. And that mentality might go for a short span, but it doesn’t play for very long, believe me.”
The success at Yankee Stadium came at different points in the season as the Orioles finished off three-game series wins in early May, early August and early September. Baltimore outscored New York in those nine games by a 49-32 margin.
The Orioles acknowledged those results in the regular season don’t mean anything now as they walk into a hostile environment to deal with the Yankees’ mystique that can leave opponents intimidated against a club that’s won 27 World Series titles. But the quiet confidence expressed by many players following Game 2 convinced anyone who’s followed the club all season that they won’t be intimidated.
“We played well there, but we haven’t played postseason baseball there,” Jones said. “That’s going to be a totally different atmosphere. Their fans are going to be crazy. Just like our whole stadium was packed full of orange and black, there’s going to be that dark blue. I know there’s going to be some orange and black up there, but you know the scenarios are going to change. It’s going to be their home-field advantage, but we’ve got to go there and try to silence that crowd as much as we can.”
Hearing Jones and Wieters talk about a playoff trip to Yankee Stadium has been surreal for anyone who dared dream of the Orioles finding themselves in the postseason over the last few years. Many feared Jones and Wieters would be long gone by the time the club would be in a position to play October baseball.
Of course, much of that trepidation disappeared earlier this season when Jones inked a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension. Wieters isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, but their long-term commitment to Jones has reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to keeping their young talent in Baltimore.