By Steve DeClue
The Baltimore Orioles wasted a tremendous pitching performance from Miguel Gonzalez as Jim Johnson struggled for the second time in the series, blowing a save in the 9th inning before the Yankees finally won it in the 12th, 3-2.
Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the 9th inning and hit a home run into the right field stands to tie the game and send it to extras. Ibanez wasn’t done, depositing a Brian Matusz fastball into the second deck in right field for the game-winning home run, sending Yankee Stadium into a frenzy.
The home run ball was a much bigger factor Wednesday night even in such a low-scoring affair. The Orioles got a pair of home runs from rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado while Ibanez hit two for the Yankees. The problem for both clubs is that all four home runs were hit without any runners on base.
For the Orioles, failing to deliver with runners in scoring position really cost them. They had the bases loaded but couldn’t score, and several times advanced a man to second base without delivering him to the plate. The O’s did get a bit unlucky with some hard hit balls that resulted in outs, but their stars really need to start delivering before it’s too late.
The middle of the order for Baltimore has been nothing short of brutal. J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Jim Thome have given the team less than nothing. When so many star players in the heart of the order are not producing, it’s hard to expect to win in the postseason against a really talented team. Had the O’s been able to take a 2-1 lead in the series in spite of the poor performance from the middle of the order
Not only is Jones a non-factor at the plate, but he cost the team dearly in the field in Game 3. Jones coasted back on a ball heading over his head, blowing bubbles while he attempted to track it down. For some reason, Jones never kicked it into high gear and the ball landed just out of his reach, allowing a run to score. It was scored a triple for Derek Jeter, but in all actuality, was really an error. If Jones would have caught the ball, the Ibanez home run in the 9th inning would have simply cut the Yankees deficit to one, not tied the game.
Also, replacing Flaherty and Chris Davis for Robert Andino and Endy Chavez late in the game for defensive purposes really hurt their scoring chances once the game went into extra innings. Davis has been on a tear and is clearly the club’s hottest hitter while Flaherty has a lot of pop in his bat, meaning he could give the O’s the lead at any moment with one swing.
It is ironic that Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and the other Yankees stars haven’t really hurt the Orioles this year. Instead, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez have hurt them time and time again, whether winning a game against Baltimore or providing late-inning heroics against other opponents to keep the O’s from gaining ground on them in the standings.
Joe Girardi certainly deserves a lot of credit in the victory. He stuck with Hiroki Kuroda until late in the game, then had the guts to pinch-hit for Rodriguez with Ibanez. This isn’t the first time that Girardi called on Ibanez to pinch-hit and had it pay off. Ibanez hit a home run against the Boston Red Sox in the final series of the season to tie the game, then had the game-winning hit in extra innings. That helped keep the O’s from moving into a first place tie in the division.
Can the Orioles possibly rebound from such a devastating loss to come back and take Game 4, much less the series? They were just two batters away from taking a 2-1 lead in the ALDS and really ratcheting up the pressure on the Yankees, which was already building. They went from the driver’s seat to having their backs up against the wall in mere moments.
If we have learned anything about the Orioles this year, it’s that they are the most resilient bunch you will ever come across. A lot of the same questions were being asked of Baltimore following their disappointing loss in Game 1, only for the ‘Birds to respond in a big way the following night.
The Yankees will send Phil Hughes to the mound for Game 4 while the Orioles are likely to counter with Chris Tillman, though lefty Joe Saunders is also a consideration. Saunders pitched well in the wild card game against Texas and matches up well with all of the left-handed bats in the New York lineup.
The Orioles could be at a disadvantage in the bullpen for the first time this series. In Game 3, Jim Johnson pitched two innings, meaning he will likely be unavailable. Brian Matusz also went more than an inning and could also be unavailable. Darren O’Day threw an inning but should be fine. Look for Luis Ayala and Tommy Hunter to be key relievers should Buck Showalter have to turn to his bullpen.
Steve DeClue is a freelance writer covering all things Baltimore Orioles. His work can be found on Examiner.com.