BALTIMORE - Matt Wieters insists he saw this coming back in spring training.
Wieters was referring to the Orioles' remarkable run to the playoffs, their first berth in 15 years that saw them contending for a division title in the season's final days. Of course, manager Buck Showalter says the same thing regarding his All-Star catcher when asked how Wieters has handled the pitching staff and approached playing nearly every day.
"Best catcher I've ever had," Showalter said Monday before Game 2 of the AL Division Series between Baltimore and New York. "Real lucky to have had him pass my way."
Wieters put together a career season in his fourth year with the Orioles. The 26-year-old hit 23 home runs and drove in 83 runs, both high marks. He led the AL in games caught with 134 and threw out 32 baserunners (second best in the league), good for a 38.6 percent clip (third best).
The offense has been improving each season, but Wieters' defense has always been his trademark.
Showalter is effusive in the regard.
"He does something every night where I just kind go, 'That's pretty special,'" Showalter said.
Wieters came up big in Game 1 on defense by getting his glove on a throw from Robert Andino and tagging out Russell Martin at the plate. The Yankees had runners on second and third with one out, the game tied at 2-2, when Ichiro Suzuki hit a grounder to second. Andino's throw was low and away from Wieters to the left, but he caught the ball on a short hop and positioned himself to tag Martin before he got to home plate.
"Go grab a mitt and try to do that with a catcher's mitt," Showalter said. "That's a remarkable play. But fortunately we get to see something like that every night."Wieters, a Gold Glove winner in 2011, made his second All-Star Game this year, but now he's part of a team getting national recognition for the first time in more than a decade. Positive recognition, that is.
And the Orioles catcher said he's intent on keeping it that way.
"This is [what] everybody in the clubhouse wants to play for," Wieters said. "It's nice to get honored by your peers and get honored by people in the game, but at the same time you're playing for the playoffs, playing for a ring, and that's ultimately what you want your career to sort of be based on."
NO DAVIDS HERE: Showalter was asked before Monday's game about whether the Orioles have embraced their underdog role in the postseason, likening their quest to a David vs. Goliath scenario.
Showalter wouldn't bite.
"There's no flukes in baseball," said Showalter, who led the Orioles to a 93-69 record this season. "There's no Cinderellas. You play too many games. You don't hear us complaining about injuries and this, that and whatever. It's just another opportunity to show your mettle."IT'S A VIRTUE: The Yankees took the early series lead thanks in part to a patient approach at the plate Sunday night. New York worked counts against Orioles starter Jason Hammel from the start, and Hammel needed 112 pitches to get through 5 2-3 innings in taking a no-decision.
"It's part of what makes them good," Showalter said. "Challenging them a lot of times down the middle of the plate is usually not a good idea. ... I think it's not all that they're good hitters, but if you make good quality pitches, your pitch count will down, and they won't walk much. It's not really that complicated."
BIRD BITS: Since Aug. 1, including the wild-card win over Texas last Friday, the Orioles have the best winning percentage in baseball at .650 (39-21). That's slightly better than San Francisco at .623 (38-23). ... When Manny Machado, 20, singled in the wild-card win over the Rangers, he became the youngest Oriole to record a postseason hit. Machado moved ahead of Paul Blair, who was 22 when he homered in Game 3 of the 1966 World Series. ... Designated hitter Jim Thome, who started Monday night in Game 2, is one of 11 Orioles with playoff experience. Thome's 67 postseason games are more than other 10 players combined.