O's get ready to prove everyone wrong yet again

They don't care if it's the Yankees, they believe they can win

It should come as a surprise to no one that the oddsmakers solidly favor the New York Yankees in the best-of-five division series that begins this evening at Camden Yards.

They were, after all, the winningest team in the American League during the regular season, and the people who set the betting lines in Las Vegas consider them the most likely of the four remaining AL postseason teams to reach the World Series. The Orioles are at the other end of that list, so it's only logical that they would be a decided underdog in this series.

The O's have to be used to that by now. If they weren't trying to prove somebody wrong, they probably wouldn't know what to do with themselves.

"It really means nothing to us," said Jason Hammel, who will face Yankees ace CC Sabathia in Game 1. "It's a bunch of people telling us we couldn't do anything. Obviously, we were supposed to finish last. That didn't happen. We weren't supposed to get to the playoffs. That didn't happen. It's something we don't really look at. We're going out there, playing baseball, having fun, pulling for each other, getting contributions from every facet of the game. Somebody's going to get it done, and every night it's somebody else.

"… Obviously, the naysayers will say what they want. We're very confident in ourselves, and that's all that matters."

So far, there has not been a mountain high enough. The Orioles hit a rough patch at midseason and weathered key injuries to Hammel and Nick Markakis. They looked like they had run out of magic during the final regular-season series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Then manager Buck Showalter on Friday night sent a guy into the one-and-done wild-card round with an 0-6 lifetime record at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

And here they are, answering more questions about the possibility that they might be overmatched by a Yankees team they played to a draw in head-to-head competition during the regular season and took down to the final night of the American League East race.

"I think we like that," said shortstop J.J. Hardy. "It takes all the pressure off of us and I think it maybe adds pressure to them, so I think it's great for us."

There's really more to it than that, of course. There are some tangible reasons why the Orioles won 93 regular season games in their first winning season since 1997. But it is the intangible nature of their team chemistry that makes this playoff run so interesting.

If you look at everything on paper — except the bullpen stats — there's no way the Orioles should have been taking part in a workout/interview day at Camden Yards ahead of tonight's division series opener. They didn't even have a positive run differential until the final week of the regular season.

"Even [Friday] night, I loved being the underdog because there's no pressure on us and it's all on them," said wild-card winning pitcher Joe Saunders. "So knocking off a great team in Texas … and coming in to find out we're going to play the Yankees in a five-game series and hopefully move on. … We're just going to go out there and battle our tails off and see where it goes, but we're capable of doing some great things."

Reliever Brian Matusz, who had a dramatic three-pitch strikeout of Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton on Friday night, has had to prove himself in a new role during the second half of this season, but he prefers to look at the team's penchant for overcoming negative expectations from a different direction.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's about proving people wrong, but proving ourselves right," he said. "We know that we have the talent and we have the team camaraderie and the coaches and all the pieces, and obviously after the season we had last year a lot of people had us lower on the ratings. But we know we have the talent and we have what it takes to go out there and succeed and carry this team to the World Series and to win it. That's our goal and we're going to keep playing, keep having fun and prove it to ourselves that we're the best."

That mindset started developing seven months ago, when the Orioles and their diverse collection of young players and comeback candidates were not on anybody's radar.

"Honestly, I just looked at is as 'All right, this is what they predict for this year,'" said Adam Jones. "This is what they predict. It's not what's going to happen. It's what they predict. This is an educated guess by the media. This is an educated guess by whoever creates that or writes that column. We can't do anything about that. All we can do is go out there and play. I think we're about a 25-game swing from the predictions. It's not about proving nobody wrong. It's about proving that we can compete."

Now they have to do it all over again and it would be foolish to bet against them.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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