By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
3:56 AM CDT, October 12, 2012
On couches all over Baltimore, J.J. Hardy's game-winning RBI double in the 13th inning must have seemed like a dream, especially since the Orioles spent most of Thursday night putting fans to sleep with their offensive ineptitude.
As the night crept into early Friday morning, the Orioles' bats finally showed a much-needed sign of life. Hardy's double to left drove in Manny Machado, and the O's forced a decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series with a 2-1 Game 4 triumph over the New York Yankees in front of an announced 49,307 at Yankee Stadium.
The Orioles spent the second half of the season chasing the Yankees. In 22 games this year, each team has won 11. And now Friday’s Game 5 will decide who moves on to face the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.
“You knew all along that the road to where we want to try to get is going to have to pass through here,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles battled from the brink of elimination in their 20thextra-inning game of the season. They are now 8-0 in games that last 13 innings or more.
"I think we were all expecting this," Hardy said of playing a decisive Game 5 in the Bronx.
Said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter: "If you really think about it, it's not too surprising. … It seems like we've been evenly matched pretty much the entire year."
After spending the first four innings spoiling scoring opportunities, the Orioles had just two runners in scoring position after the fourth inning – Machado after his leadoff double in the 13thand Hardy after he doubled to drive him in.
Hardy roped a 2-2 slider from Yankees right-hander David Phelps into the left-center-field gap to break the tie in the Orioles' longest postseason game (by innings) in club history.
Showalter emptied his bullpen, as seven relievers combined to throw 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Pitching for the first time in eight days, displaced setup man Pedro Strop, who had struggled mightily against the Yankees, threw two scoreless innings to earn the win, allowing just one hit and striking out two with no walks.
“The whole regular season we’ve been involved in those kind of games,” Strop said. “We’re been in a lot of tough situations. We’ve played in a lot of extra-inning games, a lot of one-run games. It’s the situation you’re used to pitching in.”
Strop, who was a dependable eighth-inning man for most of the season until suffering some late-season struggles, entered the game with a 6.35 ERA in seven appearances against the Yankees, walking nine and allowing seven hits. Strop hadn't pitched more than one inning since May 6.
Closer Jim Johnson ended the game eight minutes past midnight by inducing a lineout to third from Eric Chavez, who pinch hit for struggling slugger Alex Rodriguez. You could call it the Orioles' greatest extra-inning win yet.
"We've been practicing all year for this game,” said reliever Darren O’Day, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless extra innings. “We've had a lot of rehearsals.
“Pedro went out there and pitched two innings when every pitch can [end] the game, the season,” added O’Day, who has pitched in all five of the Orioles' postseason games, throwing seven scoreless innings and allowing just one hit. “It's the first playoff appearance of his career and he went out there and shoved for two innings. It's been a constant theme this year of guys stepping up in big situations like that.”
The Orioles needed 4 hours, 31 minutes to win, and for most of that time, their bats were amazingly ineffective. After Nate McLouth's homer to open the fifth inning, the Orioles were just 4-for-30 for the rest of the game.
"It feels kind of normal, playing close games late, long games,” McLouth said. “Our bullpen kept throwing up zeros, and that was impressive. We've played so many of those games that, we haven't come to expect it, we're comfortable in those situations."
The Orioles were just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position for the night and are 1-for-16 in the ALDS games here at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles are hitting just .194 (6-for-31) through the first four games of the series.
The Orioles struggled to break through against Yankees starter Phil Hughes, who allowed just one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and three walks.
The O's put runners on first and second two batters into the game and couldn't score.
They had runners at second and third with no outs in the third after a leadoff walk to Machado and a double by McLouth but couldn't bring home a run.
And in the fourth, the Orioles had runners at first and third with two outs, but Machado struck out.
In the fifth, McLouth took a 1-2 fastball from Hughes into the right-field stands for his first career postseason homer to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, McLouth -- who won a Gold Glove in Pittsburgh in 2008 -- made a fine defensive play on a ball to the warning track off the bat of Jayson Nix, who was playing shortstop for Jeter.
Nix rifled a ball in the left-center-field gap that McLouth made a leaping catch on just in front of the fence. Catcher Russell Martin, the runner at first, was already on his way to third, and McLouth was able to double him off first base after Hardy's relay throw.
Showalter entrusted left-hander Joe Saunders, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in an Aug. 26 trade, with the start in his second must-win game of the postseason.
Saunders, who held the Texas Rangers to one run on six hits over five innings in the Orioles' 5-1 wild-card win last Friday, held the Yankees' bats in check. Saunders allowed just three hits over 5 2/3 innings, yielding just one run in the sixth inning.
“It’s fun and it’s tense at the same time,” Saunders said. “I came back out [to the dugout] in the 10th or 11th and it felt like I had pitched yesterday. So it’s just one of those nights where it was a total team effort and we scratched out a victory.”
Over the first four games of the ALDS, Orioles starting pitchers have pitched to a 1.78 ERA (six earned runs in 30 1/3 innings).
Saunders, who struck out five and walked four, allowed at least one base runner in every inning. After he allowed a leadoff double to Nix in the third, he struck out the side -- getting Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Teixeira all swinging -- and he was aided by inning-ending double-play balls in the fourth and fifth.
The Yankees tied the game on Robinson Cano's sixth-inning RBI groundout -- which came two batters after Jeter's leadoff double -- chasing Saunders from the game with two down and the go-ahead run on second.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter, who struggled to keep the ball in the park as a starter, overwhelmed Rodriguez with four fastballs of 97 mph or faster. Rodriguez swung through a 97-mph fastball to end the inning.
Right-hander Luis Ayala stranded runners on first and second in the seventh inning, striking out Jeter. But he allowed back-to-back singles to open the eighth.
The Orioles' bend-but-don't-break bullpen got out of that jam, too. Left-hander Brian Matusz, who gave up the game-winning homer in Game 3, got Cano to ground out for the first out. O’Day came into the game with one out and the go-ahead run on third, but he struck out Rodriguez and induced a flyout to right from Nick Swisher to end the threat.
And now for the third time in eight days, the Orioles will play in a game they must win to continue their magical season.
“This team has been doing that the whole year,” Saunders said. “Ever since I’ve come over here we’ve been scratching out extra-inning victories and that happened tonight. It was a good win. We needed it so we could play [Friday]. We’ve got a tough task ahead of us. And hopefully we can pull a victory [Friday].”