When the Orioles signed left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, 10 days into 2012, they did so because they believed the 27-year-old had displayed unflappability in big games.
He represented his native Taiwan in the Olympics four years ago. He overcame all the obstacles of pitching in a different country, shining for four seasons in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons.
When Chen won his 12th game of the season Aug. 19 in Detroit, he became the first Orioles’ pitcher to record that many wins since 2007. But Chen struggled down the stretch, losing his last four decisions heading into the postseason. As his inning count rose, doubt that he has hit the rookie wall grew.
The big stage was never an issue with Chen. But rest proved to be the perfect resolution.
Working on six days rest for just the fifth time this season, Chen held the New York Yankees to two runs (one unearned) on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings Monday night as the Orioles won Game 2 of the American League Division Series, 3-2. It was the Orioles’ first home playoff win since Oct. 8, 1997 in Game 1 against the Cleveland Indians.
"The experience of playing in Japan and the states is a totally different feeling, and of course like today, [I wanted to] win the ballgame," Chen said through translator Tim Lin. "But that's not just because of me, that's because of our team. Those guys behind me did a really good job tonight, especially [catcher Matt] Wieters. He's the man. And of course the guys behind me played wonderful defense and swung the bats really well tonight."
Chen hadn’t won a game in more than seven weeks, a span of seven starts. But on Monday night, he threw career-high 112 pitches — his previous high was 109 on July 24 — and he has now pitched to a 2.10 ERA when getting six or more days rest.
As he left the game with one out in the seventh, the sellout crowd of 48,187 at Camden Yards gave Chen a rousing standing ovation.
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"I'm really proud of Wei-Yin," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "All year long you think of all the challenges that have been with him since day one of spring training, and I think his teammates have done a really good job of making his path easier and making him feel good. [He's] probably one of our best-conditioned athletes. That's why the five-man rotation he's been so good with, and we got him at 26 out of Japan. Before you got a lot of guys at 30, 31 that have some wear and tear. "
Chen overcame a 21-pitch first inning — three of the first four batters he faced reached base — but pitched his way out of trouble as the game went on, including retiring Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano in a four-pitch fifth inning.
The last time Chen faced the Yankees — Sept. 7 at Camden Yards — he lasted just 4 2/3 innings and allowed a season-high seven earned runs in an 8-5 loss.
But on Monday night, Chen kept dodging jams. With runners at first and second in the third, he got Cano to hit a weak comebacker to the mound for a inning-ending ground out. In the fourth, he loaded the bases but got Eduardo Nunez to pop out to shortstop and got Derek Jeter to hit into a force out at third.
"In and out, in and out. He didn't leave many pitches over the middle of the plate at all," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He's one of the very few pitchers where you have to make him get the ball down. He kept the ball up in the zone, so a lot of pop-ups, a lot of fly balls. He was really good tonight."
Had it not been for Suzuki’s pirouette around home plate in the first inning — he dodged catcher Matt Wieters’ tag along the baseline, then scooted around the batter’s box to touch home — Chen would have opened the game with six scoreless innings.
But that didn't matter to the lefty. All that mattered was the win to even the series.
"Of course I'm feeling like its a little different now because this is the major leagues here," Chen said. "But there's one thing: We want to win. I want to help the team to win. That's my hope and my dream."