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Unforgettable series between Orioles, Yankees was destined for Game 5

Posted on 12 October 2012 by Luke Jones

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.

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Orioles-Yankees lineups for Game 2 of ALDS

Posted on 08 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles will send left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to the mound in hopes of evening the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees at one game apiece.

Here are Monday night’s lineups as the Orioles face off against Yankees veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte for the first time since Sept. 19, 2010. The Baltimore lineup surprisingly includes left-handed designated hitter Jim Thome, who hasn’t faced southpaw pitching very often this season.

The 42-year-old is 5-for-28 against left-handed pitching this season but does have three home runs.

LF Nate McLouth
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
1B Mark Reynolds
DH Jim Thome
3B Manny Machado
2B Robert Andino

SP Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA)

SS Derek Jeter
LF Ichiro Suzuki
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
1B Mark Teixeira
C Russell Martin
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Eduardo Nunez

SP Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 ERA)

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Steve Johnson’s health factors into decision to keep him off roster

Posted on 07 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Manager Buck Showalter decided to sleep on it before finalizing his 25-man roster for the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees.

Even then, he admitted it was a very difficult process to leave several good arms off the roster, including pitchers Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton.

“It’s hard to handicap what’s more particularly [difficult] — this guy or that guy — they’re all hard,” Showalter said. “We put a lot of thought with keeping mind you have to be cautious if you have an issue physically with somebody.”

The decision to leave the local product Johnson off the roster was especially difficult with his contributions down the stretch as a starter filling in for Game 1 starter Jason Hammel. Making four starts and appearing in 12 games this season, Johnson went 4-0 with a 2.11 earned run average in 38 1/3 innings.

However, the rookie injured his left knee after landing awkwardly from taking a comebacker hit by Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on Sept. 29. Johnson deemed himself ready to go this week and would have likely started a potential division tiebreaker against the Yankees on Thursday had the Orioles finished in a tie at the end of the regular season, but some uncertainty remained in the mind of Showalter.

“As good as we think Steve could feel, there’s some unknown there with the knee,” Showalter said. “But, we’re going to keep him here. We’re going to send probably a couple guys down to Sarasota to the instructional league to be in that camp there, but we’ll decide that after the game. Every one of those guys, as I told them today, has to have the mindset that they’re playing tomorrow, because they could be.”

Johnson will remain on call should there be a health issue with Hammel or another pitcher on the 25-man roster while a few others such as Britton and outfielder Xavier Avery will be sent to Sarasota to compete in the instructional league to stay sharp in case they’re needed later in the postseason.

For Sunday night’s game, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman will be available out of the bullpen if necessary. Gonzalez is tentatively slated to start Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles elected to keep Tommy Hunter on the 25-man roster as a power right-handed arm and potential long reliever. He has pitched effectively in relief, posting a 0.71 ERA out of the bullpen in 12 2/3 innings covering 10 September appearances.

“If we presented good options as a starter, we felt like Tommy could be a real contributor as a reliever, too,” Showalter said. “He’s certainly done that since he’s pitched out of the pen. He can give us some length out of there if we need it. The off day plays into it a lot.”

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Hammel confident in taking ball for Game 1 of ALDS

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The last time we saw Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel on the mound at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he was limping off the field with severe disappointment after reinjuring his right knee in his second start back from surgery.

He’ll now take the mound Sunday night in Baltimore’s first home playoff game in 15 years as the Orioles welcome the New York Yankees to town for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

So, did Hammel ever expect to find himself in this position after hurting his knee again nearly a month ago?

“Honestly, no,” he said. “At that point, I was very disappointed with the way it felt. It was exactly the same feeling. We were a lot slower moving it along this time, very careful with it. … I’m confident that the knee will not be an issue.”

Following that outing on Sept. 11, it appeared all but certain the Orioles’ best pitcher in the first half of the season had thrown his last pitch of the 2012 season. Hammel took his time working his way back into shape, explaining how doctors and the training staff directed him to take an extra week after feeling he was 100 percent again.

After throwing a simulated game in Florida on Monday and a bullpen session Friday in Arlington, Hammel was tabbed the starter in the series opener by manager Buck Showalter just a few minutes before meeting with the media prior to Saturday’s Division Series workout at Camden Yards. He’ll sport a bulky brace on his right knee, but Hammel said it doesn’t restrict his movement despite resembling one a football player might wear.

Hammel wasn’t afforded an opportunity to pitch in a major league game since tweaking his right knee early last month, but the Orioles have expressed supreme confidence in him based on his ability to keep his arm strong while being sidelined after undergoing knee surgery in mid-July. He finished the regular season with an 8-6 mark and a 3.43 earned run average in 20 starts.

The 30-year-old now pitches in one of the biggest games of his career after only making three starts since the All-Star break, with two of those being cut short due to injury. Showalter believes Hammel has finally reached a level of confidence in which he won’t be thinking about the knee and will be focused on a much bigger test Sunday.

“It’s as much mentally, knowing [his health] shouldn’t be a challenge for him,” said Showalter, who confirmed Hammel will not be on a restricted pitch count. “The challenge will be the Yankees, and they’ll let him know how he’s pitching. We’re excited about getting ‘Hamm’ back.”

The Orioles are expressing confidence in Hammel that he will resemble the pitcher they saw in the first half of the season, which landed him on the “Final Vote” list for the 2012 All-Star Game.

Hammel carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his first start with the Orioles on April 8 and pitched a one-hit shutout on June 16 against the Atlanta Braves. The right-hander thrived in the first half of the season despite dealing with a loose piece of cartilage in his right knee that eventually forced him to have the surgical procedure.

Now deeming himself fully healthy, Hammel is hoping to recapture the magic he enjoyed early on that made everyone forget about the unpopular reaction to the Jeremy Guthrie trade that brought the former Colorado Rockies pitcher to Baltimore in early February. But it won’t be easy against the Yankees, who Hammel held to seven earned runs in 16 innings covering three starts this season.

“Jason’s a competitor,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “When he had his time off and came back for his last start, his stuff was right there and his competitive spirit was there until he did have the setback. I know the knee feels good and when he gets out there, that competitive spirit’s going to get going and he’s going to be fine.”

It’s that same competitive spirit employed by the Orioles all season on their way to a 93-69 regular season and a win over the Texas Rangers in the first ever AL Wild Card game.

And much like a plethora of other moves and decisions made by Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, the choice to start Hammel appears unconventional and risky, given the infrequent work he’s received since early July.

“Obviously, I want to be a part of this,” Hammel said. “The guys have done an outstanding job of getting us to this point. I’ve only pitched for half of the season. It shows a lot of dedication from a lot of guys to go ahead and put me out there since I haven’t pitched in a long time. But, I’m a professional and I take care of what I need to do to get ready.

“We’re ready to go.”

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