By Steve DeClue
The Baltimore Orioles suffered a disappointing loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, but the club is already looking forward to evening up the series in Game 2.
The Orioles will send rookie Wei-Yin Chen to the mound to face Andy Pettitte, a veteran pitcher with a tremendous amount of postseason experience and incredible career numbers facing Baltimore.
Pettitte recently returned to the Yankees after an ankle injury cost him most of the season. The Orioles tend to fare better against hard-throwers rather than pitchers who like to change speeds and utilize the changeup. That doesn’t bode well for the Orioles against Pettitte, which is why his career numbers are nothing short of unbelievable against Baltimore. The O’s have a lot of free-swinging players get too anxious at the plate, which results in a lot of wild hacks at curve balls and changeups out of the strike zone.
Chen was the O’s best pitcher for a significant portion of the season with Jason Hammel sidelined with a knee injury, but has tired down the stretch. He’s had a number of successful outings against New York this year, but was battered around in his most recent start against the Yankees. The Orioles have tried to give Chen, who was used to pitching every six days in Japan, extra rest when they could during his rookie season.
Surprisingly, Russell Martin has been a huge thorn in Baltimore’s side this year. He’s hit a number of clutch home runs, some against the Orioles and others to help the Yankees to come-from-behind victories to help maintain their slim AL East lead. Martin did it again in Game 1, hitting the game-winning home run and igniting a five-run ninth inning.
The Orioles will have to better with runners in scoring position if they want to win Game 2, or the series for that matter. The team only collected two less hits than the Yankees in Game 1 yet scored five less runs. J.J. Hardy’s leadoff double in the eighth inning was followed by a strikeout, a pop up on the first pitch, and a ground ball from Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds. That’s not going to cut it, not in the playoffs and certainly not against the Yankees.
It’s hard to envision Pettitte making it easy on Baltimore hitters, and the Yankees lineup is going to put runs on the scoreboard. Every run is going to count for the O’s, so they have to manufacture runs when at all possible. Sunday night was also the second consecutive game where the Orioles did not hit a home run, and they won’t be long for the postseason if that trend continues. They are a team, like the Yankees, that greatly relies on the home run ball for run production.
An area of slight concern heading into Game 2 is the Orioles bullpen, which used several pitchers Sunday night because of Hammel’s elevated pitch count. Darren O’ Day has thrown three innings in the past two games, Jim Johnson two and Brian Matusz 1 1/3. It’s unknown whether any of those relievers will be available, thought it is worth noting that O’ Day is a special case because of his submarine throwing motion, which typically puts significantly less strain on the arm.
All of the pressure would seem to be on the Orioles at this point even though they were the heavy underdog all season long and at the start of the series. If the Orioles go down 2-0 in a five-game series heading back to New York for the next three games (Game 4 and 5 if necessary), it would take a monumental collapse from the Yankees for Baltimore to win three straight and advance to the ALCS.
The Orioles will have the crowd on their side for one more night. It was a raucous atmosphere in Game 1 despite a rain delay that lasted almost 2 1/2 hours and chilly temperatures throughout the night. It should be even louder in Game 2 with much better weather expected and the team’s back against the wall. The fans know this could be their second and last home playoff game after waiting 15 years, and they will make sure it counts.
Steve DeClue is a freelance writer covering all things Baltimore Orioles. His work can be found on Examiner.com.