For the second consecutive night, Orioles fans streamed into Camden Yards wearing their orange, twirling their “BUCKle Up” towels and surviving a first-pitch rain delay in hopes their Orioles could beat the bullies of the American League East.
It wasn’t easy; they had to overcome fielding and baserunning errors, a solid performance by Oriole-killer Andy Pettitte and a wild play at the plate in the first inning.
But, if nothing else, these surprising Orioles have shown resilience all season. And they did it again Monday, rebounding from a ninth-inning implosion the night before to slip past the New York Yankees, 3-2, and even up the American League Division Series at 1-1.
“It’s one win closer to winning three,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “We know it is a tough task ahead of us, but you like the mathematics after tonight. At least you are one step closer.”
It was the Orioles’ first home playoff win since October 8, 1997, Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians. It also was their 30th one-run win of the year; they are 76-0 when leading at the end of seven innings.
Now the Orioles head to Yankee Stadium needing to win two of three to advance to the ALCS for the first time in 15 years. It will be the club’s second playoff series in New York. The first was the infamous 1996 ALCS in which 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier interfered with a potential fly out that turned into a decisive Derek Jeter homer in Game 1. Pettitte started that game, too.
Playing Monday in front of a frenzied announced crowd of 48,817 – the largest of the season, eclipsing Sunday’s Game 1 attendance – the Orioles had to wait out a 40-minute rain delay before the first pitch.
“Of course, I’ve never seen this atmosphere. It was louder today than it was yesterday,” said center fielder Adam Jones. “And yesterday was damn near deafening.”
Then the players had to figure out a way to beat the division-winning Yankees, who had taken seven of 10 at Camden Yards this year.
They did it with clutch hits – a two-run single by Chris Davis in the third and a RBI single by Mark Reynolds in the sixth – and more strong pitching, led by starter Wei-Yin Chen and relievers Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz. The bullpen pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, and Jim Johnson, who was touched up for five runs (four earned) in the ninth Sunday, picked up his first postseason save with a perfect ninth.
“You put him in a one-run game, that’s when the sinker’s the best,” Jones said. “He had the top of the lineup Jeter, Ichiro [Suzuki] and [Alex Rodriguez], three Hall of Famers, and he was able to sit them down 1-2-3. That’s not an easy task, but Jim Johnson, I think he’s up for the not easy tasks.”
The Orioles didn’t exactly have an advantage on paper in the pitching matchup, sending Chen, the 27-year-old Taiwanese rookie, to the mound. Chen, who hadn’t won since Aug. 19, had pitched in 10 postseason games in Japan (2-5, 3.39 ERA), but never in the United States. He also had a 5.25 ERA against the Yankees in four starts this season.
Meanwhile, the Yankees countered with 40-year-old Pettitte , baseball’s all-time leader in postseason starts (43), wins (19) and innings (300). Throw in the fact that Pettitte entered Monday with 27 career victories against the Orioles -- the second most, behind only Yankees’ Hall of Famer Whitey Ford’s 30 -- and Monday looked like it could be a mismatch.
Chen allowed just two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings while throwing a career-high 112 pitches. Much better on extra rest, Chen hadn’t started since last Monday. And the needed layoff showed. He now has a 2.10 ERA in five outings this season in which he has six or more days in between starts.
“Chen was the key to that ballgame,” Showalter said. “We had some big outs late, but Chen … he was on his game tonight.”
The first half of the first inning for Chen and the Orioles, though, was a bit crazy.
Jeter led off with a single and Suzuki followed with a bouncer that Reynolds attempted to barehand in front of waiting second baseman Robert Andino. Reynolds muffed the play and Suzuki reached first on the error.
Rodriguez followed with a sharp liner that Andino dove for and caught just before it hit the ground. He flipped to J.J. Hardy for an impressive double play.
With two outs, Robinson Cano ripped a double into the corner that Davis fielded. He threw to Andino who rifled a relay throw home to Wieters, which arrived before Suzuki reached the plate.
And that’s where things got really interesting. Suzuki shifted momentum and danced around Wieters’ tag. He then dashed into the dirt circle – as deep as the umpire stands for a pitch – and flipped over from the left side batter’s box, again avoiding Wieters' tag before slapping home plate.
"I thought I might have nicked a button, but it was close,” Wieters said. “He's quick and he made a pretty good move. I wish I could have got him, but maybe a leather strap nicked a button or something.”
Home plate ump Angel Hernandez called Suzuki safe, which brought out Showalter to protest. MLB Rule 7.08, states that a runner must stay within three feet of the basepath, which is established when the tag attempt occurs. Suzuki was beyond three feet as he scampered back to the plate, but that rule is rarely, if ever, called in a mad dash at home.
“No, at home [plate] you pretty much can go anywhere in the dirt and you'll be fine,” Wieters said.
It was the first run of the game, but the Yankees couldn’t hold onto the lead. The Orioles scored twice on Davis’ third-inning hit and could have had more, but Hardy made a rare baserunning blunder with an assist from Rodriguez.
With Davis on first and Hardy at second, Jones hit a soft grounder that slipped under Jeter’s glove and rolled into shallow left field. Hardy would have scored easily, but he stopped at third – despite third base coach DeMarlo Hale windmilling him home – because Rodriguez stood at third and faked a catch. The deke by Rodriguez worked perfectly, and Wieters’ groundout ended the inning, stranding Hardy at third base.
The Yankees closed within one on an RBI single by Jeter in the seventh against Chen to keep the chilly night tense.
Much of the credit for that goes to Pettitte, who came out of retirement this season. He was superb Monday, pitching into the eighth and allowing just three runs on seven hits and a walk in seven-plus innings.
"It was a tough game. Obviously, the game came down to I made a mistake to Davis,” Pettitte said. “I just left him a ball right in the middle of the zone to hit. And that was a serious mistake by me in that situation. Really, obviously, that pretty much cost us the game."
The series is now tied at one apiece – and it will end in New York on Thursday or Friday. The Yankees, obviously, have the advantage with three games at home after winning one here. But they weren’t looking for just one victory in Baltimore.
“You don't come here saying you want to split. You come here wanting to win every game, and we didn't win today,” Jeter said. “We're in a battle. We've been battling all year, and today, they were better than us.”