First things first: anyone who brings up you-know-who tonight - because apparently every media outlet felt it necessary to get his opinion of this series - is banned.
It's been real for a while, and tonight it gets a little realer. Here begins what amounts to a best-of-three series in the Bronx between the Orioles and Yankees. This is the place where the O's went 6-3 this year - as the Yankees went 6-3 at Camden Yards. That set a tie for the season series, 9 games to 9. It is now 10 to 10. By Friday night, one team will have 12 wins over the other and will be in the ALCS, and the other will be heading off to golf.
I went to a playoff game on Sunday and it still doesn't feel like it could be happening, but here we are. It is still pretty cool, but I have to say it will be cooler still if Saturday rolls around and we're fretting about the next opponent.
When Joe Saunders was sent out against Texas in the wild card game, I joked that was actually a good sign, because nothing would be more 2012 Orioles than Saunders going in there and winning. That happened. Miguel Gonzalez pitching in Game 3 of the ALDS, looking to get the O's to a 2-1 series lead, is pretty much the same sort of thing. Few things could be more 2012 Orioles than Gonzalez pitching a gem of a game in that hostile environment, leaving Yankees fans mystified how this unsung hero of the season came in and shut them down.
That does not, of course, mean that will happen. Some of our dreams have come true, getting this far, but that doesn't mean we will keep dreaming. Still the Yankees will be sending out a lineup full of powerful hitters, leading off with three straight future-Hall of Famers (even if they're all aging), with fearsome sluggers like Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson not far beyond that. Or even Russell Martin, who does not have to do a lot of things right at this point in his career to crush a mistake.
If there's any O's pitcher where you might be tempted to feel good, it's Gonzalez. He had great results with a 3.25 ERA this year, and his best game of the year came in New York on August 31: seven scoreless innings, four hits, only one walk and nine strikeouts. That doesn't mean he'll do great tonight, but after so long of watching guys who have seemed to wilt under any pressure, it's nice to know there is one on the mound tonight who we've seen put the team on his back in a big game - and that late-August game was undoubtedly big, if not this big.
O's hitters, kept mostly quiet this series thus far, will face off against Hiroki Kuroda, who is no slouch. The 37-year old righty threw an MLB career high 219.2 innings in his first season in the AL - with a 3.32 ERA that was second-best in his five-year American professional career. A 1.17 WHIP over all those innings does not suck. Kuroda got 52.3% ground balls this year, but also gave up 25 home runs. So many balls will be put on the ground, but ones that end up in the air could be deposited in the short porch in right field - Nate McLouth, Chris Davis, and even Jim Thome, these are your hours to deliver!
Kuroda is tough. Everyone in the playoffs is tough. Even the Orioles. Much as it's hard for me to believe that they're really here, they belong here. They won enough games to get in the dance and they beat Texas. Now they are in a close, tense series against the Yankees. It's not getting any easier from here. But the Orioles are a good team, and they are especially good at finding ways to win. Maybe tonight they will do it yet again.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||NEW YORK YANKEES|
|Nate McLouth -LF||Derek Jeter - SS|
|J.J Hardy - SS||Ichiro Suzuki - LF|
|Chris Davis - RF||Alex Rodriguez - DH|
|Adam Jones - CF||Robinson Cano - 2B|
|Matt Wieters - C||Nick Swisher - RF|
|Jim Thome - DH||Mark Teixeira - 1B|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Curtis Granderson - CF|
|Ryan Flaherty - 2B||Russell Martin - C|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Eric Chavez - 3B|