By Steve DeClue
The Baltimore Orioles saw their magical season finally come to an end with a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the ALDS.
Jason Hammel and C.C. Sabathia dueled back and forth before the Yankees were eventually able to score two runs off the O’s ace, knocking him out of the game. New York later added a third run when Curtis Granderson launched a ball into the second deck in right field, putting the Orioles in a big hole against one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
The first run surrendered by the Orioles was deflating. Knowing it would be a close game, the O’s couldn’t afford to fall behind. After Mark Teixeira reached base, the O’s decided against holding the runner, allowing him to get a great jump and steal second base. The next ball was grounded to the right of second base and into the outfield, scoring Teixeira. Had Teixeira still been standing on first base, Robert Andino would have been in double play position and the ball would have been hit right at him.
Baseball can be a cruel game, and for a team that seemed to be managed by a guy who pushed all the right buttons all year long, some breaks didn’t go their way in the most critical contest of the season.
The Orioles were able to launch a comeback in the eighth inning, but their struggles with runners in scoring position popped up yet again. They had the based loaded with just one out but Nate McLouth struck out and J.J. Hardy grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.
It was more of the same from the middle of the order and their struggles at the plate. Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Hardy combined for just eight hits in the entire series, not to mention the struggles of Mark Reynolds and Jim Thome.
For some reason, a team that liked to swing the bat in the regular season became overanxious and would literally swing at almost anything in the postseason. Time and time again, the Orioles had the count in their favor only to swing at balls in the dirt. Sabathia’s patented slider tempted O’s hitters time and time again, giving him easy outs and allowing the left-hander to pitch a complete game.
Working the count and finding players with a higher on-base percentage will certainly be something Dan Duquette looks at hard and long in the offseason. McLouth was one of the few players in the postseason who came up with clutch hits, which may have simply been the result of a slump hitting the club at the worst time possible or inexperience/youth starting to finally show.
The game did not end without some controversy. McLouth hit a ball down the right field line that was ruled foul and the call was upheld upon review. However, replays appeared to show the ball glancing off the foul poul and changing directions, and an usher interviewed by TBS reporter Craig Sager agreed with that notion.
The call cost the Orioles a run and an out and comes almost 16 years to the day that Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence to interfere with a ball that was ruled a home run. The Orioles just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to balls hit down the right field line in the playoffs at Yankee Stadium.
Looking back on the series, Jones has to be kicking himself for not getting to the Jeter triple in Game 3. If he catches that ball, the Orioles are likely in the ALCS. If he or any other player in the middle of the lineup could have come up with just one hit in the three losses with men on base, the O’s would be moving on to the next round. You can always say “What if,” but it really did apply to Baltimore with the way the series shook out.
It’s certainly a bitter end to a terrific season, one which the players, coaches and fans won’t soon forget. The Orioles reached the postseason for the first time since 1997 and managed to win three playoff games. The heart they showed in their amazing string of wins in close games and extra innings should bode well going forward, as well as gaining some playoff experience.
If nothing else, the O’s incredible run brought a dormant baseball city back to life in a huge way. Baltimore came alive down the stretch as reality finally hit that baseball was back in Charm City. For that, O’s fans are incredibly grateful to Buck Showalter and the players and already looking forward to 2013.
Steve DeClue is a freelance writer covering all things Baltimore Orioles. His work can be found on Examiner.com.