Improbable run continues for Orioles
With 13-inning victory over the Yankees in Game 4, O's now one win from ALCS
NEW YORK -- Baltimore manager Buck Showalter firmly believes that the game is all about the players, so he chafes every time he sees the Orioles' new BUCKleUp campaign on a T-shirt or a roadside billboard. Come next year, when he's had a chance to confer with the team's marketing people, he'll make sure that the Orioles center their promotional efforts around Adam Jones, Jim Johnson, Manny Machado and the guys who get it done on the field.
But until the Orioles come up with something more pithy or less managerial-centric, "BUCKleUp'' will have to do. The way the Orioles play the game, it's less a marketing theme than a recipe for survival.
Since Opening Day, the Orioles have outlasted negative karma, a burdensome history and a dicey run differential. They beat Texas in a winner-take-all wild-card game last week, and they've dealt with bullpen woes, sleepy middle-of-the order bats and a healthy dose of Raul Ibanez in the American League Division Series against the Yankees. So it's only fitting that in tight games -- when the slightest misstep or hanging curveball could bring their season to an end -- they find a way to dig deep and do their best work.
A night after having their guts ripped out by Ibanez, the O's regained their equilibrium and lived to play another day. J.J. Hardy doubled home Machado in the top of the 13th inning, Johnson redeemed himself in the bottom of the inning, and the Orioles beat the Yankees 2-1 to even their best-of-five division series at two wins apiece.
So now it's come to this: Baltimore will send Jason Hammel to the mound in a 5 p.m. ET matchup against CC Sabathia on Friday. The winner will advance to play Detroit for the American League pennant. The loser might have to spend a few days in bed with some snacks and the remote control.
"If you can't get up and get ready for this, you might not have a pulse,'' said left fielder Nate McLouth. "We'll be excited for it. I know the Yankees will, too. And I know the fans will. We'll be ready.''
It would be an understatement to call this series a war of attrition. Between the on-field action and the rain delays, the teams spent 10 hours and 3 minutes at the yard during the first two games in Baltimore. Over the past two nights at Yankee Stadium, they've slogged it out for 25 innings and more than 7½ hours of play.
The longer things go, the better the Orioles get. Ibanez's two homers off the bench gave the Yankees a 3-2 victory in 12 innings in Game 3, but the O's were on more familiar turf Thursday. They're 17-3 in extra-inning games this season, but 8-0 in games of 13 innings or longer. They're part Oriole, part Night Owl.
"Obviously, this is almost fitting with the type of games we've played all year,'' Johnson said. "It gave us good practice for when we got to this point in the season. We've been there, so we can draw on our past experiences.''
Baltimore's Game 4 victory included many of the ingredients that have characterized the team's improbable run to October:
• Teammates picking up teammates. In the seventh inning, second baseman Ryan Flaherty dropped a routine pop fly by Russell Martin for an error, but Luis Ayala struck out Derek Jeter to end the inning and keep the Yankees off the board. Two innings later, journeyman Lew Ford got picked off first base while pinch-running for Jim Thome. But the bullpen held the Yankees at bay long enough for Hardy to win it.
• Youth being served. Machado, who has been praised for stabilizing the Orioles' defense while shifting from minor league shortstop to big league third baseman, led off the 13th with a double and walked home on Hardy's shot to deep left field. Machado is hitting only .143 (2-for-14) in this series, but teammates continue to marvel at his focus, maturity and complete obliviousness to the stakes. Hardy jokingly maintains that there's no way Machado can possibly be 20 years old.
"I kind of try to put myself in that position as a 20-year-old,'' said McLouth. "I'd have to wear a diaper.''
• Resilience in abundance. Consider the emotional ups and downs that Johnson has encountered in the Division Series. In the series opener, he was shelled for five runs in the ninth inning. He followed up with a 1-2-3 inning for the save in Game 2. Then he surrendered the tying homer to Ibanez in Game 3, before retiring Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Eric Chavez in order for the save Thursday.
Johnson's sinker might be day-to-day, but he's been stoic throughout the proceedings and resolute in his desire to take the ball.
"Obviously it bothers you a little bit,'' Johnson said. "That's human nature. But I'm never gonna beat myself up too bad, because I know I put in the effort and the work and I left it all out there. You can't beat yourself up too much for making a mistake with a pitch, because nobody's perfect. You trust everything you do, and the next day you come out and trust yourself again.''
• Unsung heroes up and down the roster. Reliever Darren O'Day has been a rock against the Yankees, with five hitless, shutout innings. In Thursday's marathon the Orioles dusted off Pedro Strop, who was a force in the bullpen all season before a bout of September ineffectiveness turned him into an afterthought. Strop was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA against the Yankees this year, but he came out of mothballs to throw two innings for the first time since May 6.
McLouth and Joe Saunders, August additions to the roster, have played huge roles in big spots. McLouth's 10 total bases in this series are two more than the combined total for Jones, Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds.
Hardy, who's hitting .167 against the Yankees, has been just as ineffective at the plate. As he stepped in the box against David Phelps in the top of the 13th, his travails throughout this series weighed on his mind. So he decided to give himself an on-the-spot attitude adjustment.
"I don't know what it is,'' Hardy said. "Maybe it's pressure. Maybe it's the first time for a lot of us being here. It's funny. The whole game I was telling myself, 'Don't try to do too much.' I tried to calm myself down, but that wasn't working. So in that [final] at-bat, I actually told myself to try to do a little bit more.''
Now that the Oakland Athletics have been bounced by Detroit and resigned to the role of spectators, the Orioles will carry the mantle for scrappy, overachieving teams who weren't supposed to be here. Unlike the A's, who seemed to thrive on emotion, the O's do a great job of keeping their pulse rates in check in big spots. Between the regular season and the playoffs, they're 56-24 in games decided by one or two runs this season. Think a track record that excruciating doesn't harden a team's resolve?
The Orioles' ability to overcome setbacks is enough to make the skipper downright philosophical.
"Anything worth accomplishing comes with some real prices to pay,'' Showalter said. "When you get that gift as a child that you didn't really work for or deserve, it didn't mean as much. But when you acquire or accomplish something that you really worked for, it means that much more. You know, the baseball gods let you up on off the deck if you stay true to the game.''
The Orioles' season has come down to nine more innings -- or 11 or 13 or 15. They've met the Yankees 22 times this season, and each team has 11 victories, so something has to give. Fasten your seatbelts and check your pulse. There's more baseball to be played in the Bronx.