By Steven DeClue
The Baltimore Orioles used a tremendous pitching performance to overcome yet another poor night at the plate to earn a 2-1 win over the New York Yankees in 13 innings, pushing the series a deciding Game Five.
Nate McLouth hit a home run in the fifth inning, and J.J. Hardy’s double scored Manny Machado, who doubled to lead off the 13th, to plate the game-winning run in the 13th. McLouth also had a hand in the game-winning run, moving Machado over to third base by hitting the ball to the right side of the infield. He also came up with a tremendous catch earlier in the game to keep the score tied.
The Orioles once again overcame a terrible night from the middle of their lineup and wasted numerous scoring opportunities. At one point, the O’s had men on second and third with no outs and were unable to score a run despite the meat of their order coming to the plate. Fortunately, their pitching was once again able to bail them out as it has done the entire series.
Joe Saunders pitched his second great game of the postseason, getting into the sixth inning and allowing just one run. The bullpen took over from there, stringing together almost seven innings of shutout ball. Pedro Strop gave the Orioles two shutout innings after being the club’s least dependable reliever since Kevin Gregg. Strop really struggled in previous appearances against the Yankees this season, so maybe this will give him a serious confidence boost.
Patience at the plate continues to be a big issue for the O’s, who drew some walks but could have caused a lot more problems had they waited out Phil Hughes. The Orioles could have put more runners on base via the walk and driven up his pitch count early in the game. Instead, Hughes was allowed to hang around and get fairly deep into the game.
Adam Jones continues to scuffle, taking wild hacks at balls not even close to the strike zone. It seems like Jones wants to be an offensive catalyst so badly that he is really anxious at the plate. He is considered the leader of the team and had a fantastic season, but the playoff spotlight has been a bit too much for him through the first five games.
With Matt Wieters, at least he is putting some good swings on the ball. The All-Star catcher has been a bit unlucky, hitting some balls really hard right at defenders. Hardy’s late double could be a sign he is set to break out. Mark Reynolds is getting the ball up in the air in most of his recent at bats, which could be a sign that he is set to go on a home run tear.
At some point, you have to figure the O’s get the bats to heat up again. Baltimore has too much talent and power in their lineup to continue to struggle so much to score runs. Then again, you could say similar things about the Yankees, who haven’t had any significant contributions from Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez or Curtis Granderson.
Game 5 will feature a rematch of the first game of the series with C.C. Sabathia squaring off against Jason Hammel. It would be no surprise to see another tight, low-scoring game, especially with the way the two offenses have fared so far this series.
Baltimore has to be excited about the fact that Hammel now has a game under his belt after missing a few weeks with lingering pain in his knee. He should be even sharper than he was in Game 1, which could mean a lower pitch count. That would certainly help with how much the bullpen has been taxed in the postseason. It looked like it took Hammel until the middle innings of Game 1 to find his rhythm and really begin to pound the strike zone. Game 5 could be a different story.
The winner of Game 5 will advance to the ALCS where they will meet the Detroit Tigers, who knocked off the Oakland Athletics in a very competitive series. The ALCS begins Saturday, so whether it’s the Orioles or the Yankees advancing to the next round, the turnaround time is virtually non-existent.
It will be interesting to see what relievers will be available for the Orioles for Game 5 after a second straight extra inning game. The team does have Chris Tillman available should they need him, with Wei-Yin Chen likely to get the Game 1 start of the ALCS should the Orioles win Friday night. The good news is that Justin Verlander pitched Game 5 in the ALDS for the Tigers, so whichever team advances to the next round won’t see him for at least a few days.
It’s amazing that no more than two games has separated these two teams since the beginning of September. The teams split the 18 games they played against each other in the regular season as well as the four postseason contests.
Everyone seemed to count out the Orioles after the club suffered such a heartbreaking defeat in Game 3, but the team battled back just like they have done all season long. The Orioles seem to play their best ball when their backs are against the wall and the doubters are out in full force, so expect a tremendous effort in Game 5.
Win or lose, the Orioles had a tremendous season and their playoff performance only excentuates that. Dan Duquette, Buck Showalter and all of the players deserve all the credit in the world for the season they put together, and hopefully it continues for just a little bit longer.
Steve DeClue is a freelance writer covering all things Baltimore Orioles. His work can be found on Examiner.com.