NEW YORK — After four nights of unforgettable postseason baseball, what more could you ask for than a Game 5 in the American League Division Series between the Orioles and Yankees?
Counted out by many after a crushing extra-inning loss in Game 3 Wednesday night, the Orioles and their ability to bounce back from defeat once again proved the naysayers wrong. Their 2-1 win over the New York Yankees in 13 innings Thursday night not only staved off elimination, but it was everything you could ask for in a playoff game.
When shortstop J.J. Hardy’s drive in the top of the 13th found the left-center gap to plate rookie Manny Machado, a collective sigh of relief was evident in the minds of Orioles hitters who had been held to only one run in their previous 19 innings.
“A little bit of everything, frustrated, fatigued,” Hardy said. “We had our back against the wall. It was win or go home, and we knew it. It was intense out there, and it was nice to come through there in the 13th.”
The Orioles and Yankees have played each other 22 times this season, with each club winning 11. New York has outscored Baltimore in those games by a narrow 103-101 margin.
Of the 43 innings played over the first four games, the clubs have been separated by more than one run at the conclusion of only two innings for the entire series.
The clubs have been tight all year, so why not leave it to a one-game scenario for the ultimate bragging rights and the ability to advance?
As bats on both sides have largely been dormant — and that’s putting it mildly — the pitching has dominated for each club. The series has supported the old adage that good pitching beats good hitting time and time again.
Friday’s series finale will feature Yankees ace CC Sabathia against Orioles starter Jason Hammel in a rematch of what we witnessed in Game 1. A trip to the AL Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers is on the line.
“As good a a team as they are, it’s an honor to be in Game 5 with them,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You knew all along that the road to where we want to try to get is going to have to pass through here. They deserve to be playing, having the home-field advantage. I don’t get too over-analytical about it. We come and compete.”
Several Orioles hitters acknowledged after Game 4 they’ve been pressing at the plate with runs at such a premium for each club. As a result, the averages have plummeted in each lineup as the struggles of Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have been matched by Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson.
Veteran Joe Saunders turned in a second straight strong performance in an elimination game on Thursday, but it was the bullpen that shined as it threw 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball. Pedro Strop, Tommy Hunter, and Luis Ayala made their postseason debuts after not pitching in over a week but contributed to the Orioles’ ability to keep the New York bats silent.
And it’s a good thing too as the Orioles finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and found even fewer scoring opportunities against the New York bullpen later in the game.
“Pitchers have been making their pitches,” Hardy said. “Maybe we’re all trying to do too much. There hasn’t been a whole lot of opportunities to score runs, so when there are those opportunities, I think we’re trying a little bit too hard.”
Regardless of what happens on Friday, the Orioles once again displayed the toughness and tenacity necessary to go deep into the postseason, even if their talent in other areas may eventually prevent them from fulfilling their World Series dreams.
After a 93-win season, a Wild Card Game victory, and one of the biggest turnarounds in club history, the Orioles now found themselves in a winner-take-all elimination game against the Yankees, the franchise that’s become the focal point of frustration for clubs such as Baltimore who haven’t been able to compete for a variety of reasons over the years.
Friday isn’t about payroll or prior playoff experience.
It comes down to one game.
Whether you’re 42-year-old Jim Thome or the 20-year-old Machado still establishing himself in the big leagues, what more could you have dreamed about for this club and this season?
“It’s been a great experience,” Machado said. “I can’t ask for any better. I’ve got a great group of guys here, a great team. It’s the best experience I’ve had playing baseball.”
I suspect it ranks right up there for Orioles fans watching the experience unfold.