The Orioles had their backs against the wall heading into Game Two of the ALDS against the Yankees at Camden Yards Monday night. Already down 1 Game to none, the birds knew that, despite the fact they’d won every series between the two at Yankee Stadium this year, they couldn’t go into New York down 2-0. The magical season, their first playoff berth since the Clinton administration, their worst-to-almost-first 2012…it ALL hinged on their ability to win Game Two.
Facing this daunting task of a must-win, the Orioles reverted back to their winning ways of the early part of 2012. The birds picked up that win, but they did so despite themselves. They were sloppy afield, with a couple of errors and two missed tags at the plate on the same play. They were less-than-little-league on the basepaths, with JJ Hardy costing the O’s an important run on a huge blunder. They were not great at the plate, collecting just 7 hits and 1 walk.
But the hits they did get were timely (3-6 w/ RISP), and the pitching was outstanding all the way around. Wei-Yin Chen (W, 1-0) hadn’t won a game in nearly two months, and had an ERA well above 5 since August. One of his roughest outings of that stretch—and, indeed, of the entire season, was his last start against the Yankees. At Camden Yards September 7, he gave up 7ER in 4.2 innings, taking the loss for the second straight start. But Monday night, Chen’s A-Game reappeared just in time.
Chen escaped a harrowing first inning relatively well. Derek Jeter led off with a single. He moved to second on a Mark Reynolds error that put Ichiro on first. Alex Rodriguez absolutely scorched a line shot that O’s second baseman Robert Andino made a terrific diving catch of, then flipped to Hardy at second to double off Jeter. That ended up being a very big play in this game, because the next batter, Robinson Cano, lined one off the wall in right. Chris Davis made a nice play off the wall and a good throw to Andino for the relay. Andino’s throw was a bit up the third base line, but was in plenty of time to nail Ichiro coming in.
Matt Wieters, though, appeared to catch the ball inside the third baseline instead of outside. He then had to reach back to try to tag Ichiro, who avoided Wieters. But Ichiro’s momentum pulled him well off the plate, and he blew past the dish, having to turn around and come back. Wieters made a lunge across home plate and threw his glove in Ichiro’s direction. But the veteran outfielder did a bit of a dance, and reached his right hand around Wieters, touching the plate before Wieters touched him, and the Yankees led 1-0.
It stayed 1-0 until the Orioles were finally able to make something happen against Andy Pettitte (L, 0-1) with two outs in the third. Andino picked up the first O’s hit, a bloop to center. Nate McLouth’s single to center moved Andino to second. A walk to Hardy loaded the bases with two outs for Davis.
Davis picked on a 1-0 hanging slider from Pettitte and singled to right. Both Andino and McLouth scored for a 2-1 Orioles lead. Next, Adam Jones hit a slow roller toward the hole at short. This is a play Derek Jeter has probably made 5,000 times in his career, but this time, the ball found its way under Jeter’s glove. But with two outs, and with third base coach DeMarlo Hale frantically waving Hardy home, the Orioles shortstop held up. Not only did he not try to score, he didn’t even round third base, suggesting he may have been decoyed by Alex Rodriguez, who’d held his glove up as if anticipating a throw from Jeter. It was a terrible baserunning play by Hardy, and when Pettitte got Wieters on a popout to Cano on the very next pitch, it proved to cost the Orioles a run.
But Chen would make sure to hold the Yankees right where they were until he got a little more offensive help. He wasn’t perfect in so doing. In the fourth, he gave up two hits. A Hardy error allowed Russell Martin to reach in the sixth. Into the Orioles half of the sixth, Wieters led off with a double. Reynolds, looking to move Wieters along to third, was willing to make a productive out. The pull hitter instead slapped one to the right side, and the ball had eyes, squeezing under Cano’s glove and into right for a hit. Wieters scored, and the Orioles were up 3-1.
Chen gave up an RBI hit to Jeter in the seventh, and left with one out, but the tying run on first in Ichiro. Darren O’Day came on for one batter, Alex Rodriguez. O’Day struck ARod out, but Ichiro stole second. Buck Showalter called on Brian Matusz out of the pen. The lefty, a disaster as a member of the Opening Day rotation and a godsend out of the ‘pen, did his thing again. After an intentional walk to Cano, Matusz got Nick Swisher on a fly out to left, for out number three. Rarely used much past a batter or two in relief, Showalter left Matusz out there for the eighth. Matusz responded by giving up a leadoff hit, then setting the next three Yankees down in order.
Into the top of the ninth, and the Orioles held the 3-2 lead. The closer, Jim Johnson, who’d saved 51 games during the regular season, was called on out of the pen. After Sunday night’s complete collapse by Johnson (5R, 4ER, 0.1 IP), Orioles Nation had every reason to be petrified. But Johnson pitched as uneventful a ninth as he has all year, getting Rodriguez swinging to wrap up a 1,2,3 inning, and the 3-2 Orioles win.
Game three of the series, which is tied at 1 game apiece, happens Wednesday night in The Bronx. Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 during the regular season) goes for New York, vs. Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25) for the Orioles.
- Chen picked a great time for his best outing since July: 6.1IP, 2R, 1ER, 8H, 3K, 1BB.
- O’Day, Matusz, J. Johnson comibined out of the ‘pen: 2.2IP, 0R, 1H, 4K, 1BB
- Davis: 2/4, 2RBI, now batting .500 in the ALDS.
- Andino: 1/3, 1R, 1 great play. He’s hitting .400.
- Hardy picked a horrible time to have maybe his wost game of the year: 0/3, 1BB, 1K, 1E, 1 very big baserunning mistake. If the Orioles would have lost by a run instead of won by one, that play could go down in Orioles lore. And not for good reasons.