BALTIMORE - Fifteen years to the day of their last postseason win at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles desperately needed another.
Trailing one game to none to the Yankees in their American League Division Series, and headed to New York for the remainder of the best-of-five series, Game 2 Monday night was as much a must-win situation as a team can face in a non-elimination game.
Up against the winningest postseason pitcher of all-time, playing the team with the best record in the AL this season, the Orioles called upon Wei-Yin Chen, a first-time postseason performer and a non-winner since Aug. 19.
Chen pitched 6 1-3 strong innings, Baltimore came up with just enough timely hits against Andy Pettitte and Jim Johnson looked more like the closer who established a club record for saves as the Orioles beat the Yankees 3-2 to even the series in front of 48,187, the largest crowd of the season at Camden Yards.
"The math is, youv'e got to win three or lose three," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's one win closer to winning three."
The two teams are off today. Game 3 is set for Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
Chris Davis had a two-run single and Mark Reynolds had an RBI single for the Orioles, who dropped Pettitte to 19-11 all-time in the postseason.
Davis quibbled with the semantics, but recognized the importance of the game.
"We didn't want to say must-win yet," Davis said. "Going into New York was going to be tough, especially in a five-game series going in down 0-2. It's good for us to get the win, build some momentum."
Chen gave up just one earned run (two total) on eight hits, walking one and striking out three after going 0-4 over his final seven regular-season starts. He got lots of help from three relievers as the Orioles won a playoff game in front of the home crowd for the first time since Oct. 8, 1997, when they beat the Cleveland Indians in that year's American League Championship Series opener.
"Chen was the key to that ballgame," Showalter said. "He was on his game."
Winning a one-run postseason game was appropriate considering the team went a major-league record 29-9 in one-run games during the season. As usual, the bullpen held the opposition in check.
Darren O'Day got a key out in the seventh, Brian Matusz pitched 1 1-3 scoreless relief innings and Johnson tossed a perfect ninth, fanning Alex Rodriguez to secure the win one night after giving up five runs (four earned) in one-third of an inning to take the loss in Game 1.
"If you have a bad you've got to have a short-term memory," said Johnson. "It would've been nice, obviously, to have a big lead, but I kind of figured that's the way it would work out. You have a rough one and you're kind of put under the pressure cooker the next time out. You've just go to trust your stuff."
The Orioles, in the postseason for the first time since 1997 up against a team that's been in the postseason every year but one since 1995, will need to win two of the three on the road to advance to the ALCS. Had they lost Game 2, they'd have needed a sweep.
Johnson said he was unhappy with his execution on Sunday, but channeled his emotions into focusing on getting another chance.
"Human nature, it's going to bug you. It should because you care," he said. "You've got to trust your prep work, trust who you are and just go about your business and just come back the next day and execute. Just execute your pitches. It's that simple of a mindset.
"Honestly, I felt the same confidence level both days. Execution was the big issue [Sunday]. Today, I executed my pitches and better results."
Pettitte pitched seven effective innings, giving up three runs. He was handed the lead as the Yankees scored in the first inning for the second night in a row.
After a 40-minute rain delay, the second delay in as many nights, Derek Jeter started things off by a lining a no-ball, two-strike pitch into center for a single and Ichiro Suzuki reached on an error when first baseman Reynolds ranged in front of second baseman Robert Andino and inexplicably tried to barehand Suzuki's grounder.
Chen appeared as if he might get out of the jam when Andino snared Rodriguez's line drive and tossed to second to double up Jeter. But cleanup hitter Robinson Cano followed with a shot off the bottom of the wall in right field.
Right fielder Davis threw to Andino, whose relay to catcher Matt Wieters easily beat Suzuki to the plate. But Suzuki dodged to his right, avoiding the tag, went around the back of home plate and leaped back for it from the first base side, slapping it with his left hand as he again avoided a Wieters tag. The Baltimore fans were irate and began a chant more commonly heard at Ravens games, but TV replays seemed to indicate that the nimble Suzuki had, in fact, eluded the catcher's glove.
Pettitte cruised through the first eight batters in the Orioles' lineup, commanding his fastball and freezing hitters with his off-speed pitches. But Andino's two-out, broken-bat single to center in the third broke up the no-hitter and started a rally at the same time. Nate McLouth followed with another single to center and J.J. Hardy worked a four-pitch walk to load the bases for Davis, the Orioles' regular-season home run and RBI leader.
Davis lined a two-run single to right, making it 2-1. The Orioles could've done more damage when Adam Jones followed with a ground single past shortstop, but Hardy -- apparently faked out by third baseman Rodriguez, stopped at third despite the windmilling exhortations of third base coach DeMarlo Hale. With the bases full again, Pettitte got Wieters on a flyball to end the threat.
The Yankees then left the bases loaded in the top of the fourth. After allowing a walk and two singles with one out, Chen induced a popup from Eduardo Nunez and got Jeter on a grounder to third. Chen then produced a much-needed, four-pitch inning in the fifth and would've had another 1-2-3 inning in the sixth if not for a Baltimore error.
"Today I just wanted to go deep," Chen said through an interpreter. "I didn't want to think too much. I just wanted to face one batter, one batter, and another batter ... and I just kept going."
Meanwhile, the Orioles failed to build on their lead even with help from errors by Jeter (in the fourth) and Teixeira (in the fifth) but tacked on a run in the sxith when Wieters led off with a double to the gap in right-center and Reynolds follwed with an RBI single.
The Yankees pulled within 3-2 in the seventh when Nunez led off with a double and scored on a Jeter single, again on an 0-2 pitch. Chen induced Suzuki into a grounder for a forceout, then gave way to O'Day who struck out Rodriguez. Matusz then came on and, after intentionally walking Cano and then wild-pitching the runners to second and third, got Nick Swisher to flyout to end the inning.
Matusz remained in and gave up a leadoff single in the eighth before striking out Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson and getting Nunez on a foul pop to turn the game over to Johnson, who record a record 51 saves for Baltimore this season and atoned for his implosion on Sunday, when he entered in the ninth inning of a 2-2 game and wound up a 7-2 loser.
This time, future Hall of Famers Jeter, Suzuki and Rodriguez went down meekly, the sell-out crowd going nuts as the final out was recorded by Johnson, who said this was a much-needed win but didn't know whether to call it the biggest of 2012.
"It's been a long season. I don't remember them all," he said. "Obviously, with the magnitude [of the] playoffs, it is a big win. If you lose two, then you've got to go to New York and it's going to be tough to come back.
"We split the series, [now] we go up to New York where we've played them tough and take our chances."