NEW YORK — — Everything about the scene at Yankee Stadium reinforces the idea that the resident team is supposed to win — not just most of the time, but every night and, especially, every night in October.
It's more than the 27 World Series flags on the facing of the second deck or the monuments to Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio in center field. The assumption lies in the fiber of every conversation between fans, every pre-game question posed to Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
So when the Orioles, in their first postseason since 1997, arrived for the third game of the American League Division Series on Wednesday, they seemed to delight in playing the role of unexpected houseguests. They insisted before the game that the Bronx mystique didn't mean a whole lot. Then they appeared to have the Yankees on the brink of a stunning 2-1 series deficit.
It wasn't meant to be. In the end, the Yankees showed why they're the Yankees, scoring in the ninth and 12th innings on home runs by Raul Ibanez, who had pinch-hit for a faltering Alex Rodriguez. With the 3-2 loss, it's the Orioles who are now one game from seeing their magical season come to an end.
The been-there-done-that Yankees reacted like little kids when Ibanez struck his second home run.
Catcher Russell Martin called it the greatest thing he's ever seen.
"I mean, wow, you dream about stuff like that," said beaming outfielder Nick Swisher. "I wasn't even the one who got a hit, and I was jumping around and going crazy. I mean, legendary performance."
The game seemed to be shaping up as the perfect portrait in miniature of the Orioles' whole, improbable 2012. They received a near-flawless pitching performance from a starter, Miguel Gonzalez, who had never appeared in the majors before this year. They got home runs from Ryan Flaherty, a guy who was dumped by the lowly Chicago Cubs, and Manny Machado, a 20-year-old kid who wasn't expected in the big leagues until next season at the earliest.
But then, a plot twist: Ibanez replaced Rodriguez and victimized a bullpen that has been the Orioles' chief strength throughout the season. His home runs handed Baltimore its first extra-inning loss since April, and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared over the loudspeakers as buzzing spectators filed out of the stadium.
Asked whether the game left him with a knot in his stomach, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said no. "We're so impressed with all of our guys tonight," he said. "[They] played a great game in a tough situation, and they'll come out and compete tomorrow."
The Orioles seemed to say all the right things before the game.
Showalter cut right through questions about his team coping with any awe inspired by the history and spectacle of Yankee Stadium.
"I'm sure they've been told about it," said Showalter, himself a former Yankees manager. "There's so many things I know and y'all know even better than I do that get brought up. And I know if you want to go down to the locker room and bring it up, they would go, 'Oh, really, that's nice.'"
His response drew chuckles from the New York scribes.
"I think our team this year is different than it has been in the past," pitcher Chris Tillman said. "Being here the last three years and coming up through this year, there has been a whole different feel in the clubhouse and on the field. You come in the clubhouse after the game, you wouldn't be able to tell whether we won or lost."
But the Orioles will have to summon all of their resilience to keep the season alive Thursday. The Yankees, meanwhile, saved themselves a heap of second-guessing with the comeback.
Before Wednesday's game, no one asked Girardi much about the Orioles or why his club has been unable to shake them. The focus was squarely on third baseman/diva Rodriguez and whether he should be dropped from the No. 3 spot in the lineup. Did Alex seem OK? Did Girardi keep A-Rod in a prime hitting slot only to protect his fragile psyche?
The premise seemed to be that if Girardi twirled the right knobs and pulled the right levers, the Yankee machine would surely roll to another victory. The Orioles were treated as a necessary prop, barely worthy of discussion.
That's how it is when you've made the postseason 17 of the last 18 years and sport a $196 million payroll, the highest in the sport and about 21/2 times the Orioles' $80 million.
"I think we would be in shock if we weren't here," Yankees fan Lino Raspanti of Massapequa, N.Y., said before Wednesday night's game.
Though the stadium was full and the crowd plenty loud when injured Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tossed out the first pitch, the scene carried none of the wild, pep-rally feel that overtook Camden Yards when playoff baseball returned to Baltimore on Sunday.
"Of course we expect it," said Joe Forintos of Yonkers, N.Y. "We're spoiled. But if you pay this kind of money, you expect the team to win every night."
Forintos came to the game in a Yankees World Series cap and a T-shirt that said, "I'm allergic to Stupid!" Of recent Orioles teams, he said succinctly, "They sucked."
"We're getting the vibe that we're second tier, just the next in along line of opponents," said Kris Mallick, an Orioles fan from White Marsh who took a bus to the game Wednesday afternoon. "I guess they're just used to this."
It makes sense. If the Orioles were bad against everyone else during their run of 14 straight losing seasons, they were downright pathetic against the Yankees, going 79-160 between 1998 and 2011.
"The head-to-head numbers between these two teams since '97 are just so absurd that I think fans always looked at games against the Orioles as respites," said Mike Vaccaro, a columnist at the New York Post. "The part that I always thought was crazy and kind of sad was that you'd tune in to these games at Camden Yards and it would be 50 percent, 60 percent Yankees fans. It was disconcerting to see it become kind of a satellite campus for the Yankees. That's just not the way it's supposed to be, especially for those of us who remember what it used to be like."
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The Orioles began to seem less pitiful to New Yorkers when they hired Showalter in 2010. Yankees fans remembered the way the intense, detail-oriented manager righted their club's sinking ship in the early 1990s.
"They not only appreciate what he did here," Vaccaro said. "They know how good he is. The moment that Buck's imprint was on this team, the idea that it was some kind of joke operation flew out the door."
Yankees diehards confirmed that this year's Orioles team has earned their respect. "Honestly, at the beginning of the year, we didn't think anything about the Orioles," Forintos said. "Until we played yous. Then we saw you got a real good team."
There is a flip side to the eternal favorite role occupied by the New Yorkers. When things don't go well, the scrutiny can become crushing, the narrative entirely focused on what they've done wrong.
"If they lose a 5-4 game they had a chance to win, yeah, you blame the Yankees," Forintos said. "You don't talk about what the other team did."
Fortunately for the Yankees, Ibanez's heroics are likely to be the talk of the town on Thursday.