One week later, the Orioles find themselves set to play another game on the road where both teams must win or go home. The series thus far has been one that is evenly matched between two extremely poorly-hitting teams. One bad pitch, one bad play changes everything. Perhaps Yankees fans look at this Orioles team and think, "There's no way they shouldn't have lost this series by now!" They might. And yet, an Orioles fan can fairly look at the Yankees and think, "If it wasn't for two Jim Johnson meltdowns, you might already be in the offseason." Likely, fans of the Detroit Tigers look at both of these teams and think, "Bring them on."
Writers have been emphasizing as the series has rolled on that all but one inning has ended with the score either tied or within one run. That this was true for four tense games need not mean it will be true for the fifth. All it takes is one stumble, one team to finally capitalize on the opportunities that it has been failing to capitalize on through the first four games. Whatever happens, it's been an awesome ride. I still hope it doesn't end tonight.
The starting pitching match-up is a rematch of the cold, rain-delayed Game 1: CC Sabathia taking on Jason Hammel. Does Sabathia have a second consecutive dominant outing in him? He nearly pulled off a complete game only five days ago. Hammel was good, if not dominant. Whatever team loses tonight does not have a tomorrow. All hands will be on deck.
With all hands on deck comes the shuffling of the deck chairs. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has taken the biggest step here, with Alex Rodriguez beginning the game on the bench. This after being lifted for a pinch-hitter late in the game on consecutive nights. In Game 3 it meant everything; in Game 4, nothing. You can't fault Girardi. Rodriguez has looked helpless out there.
So have Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson... and if you want to talk the Orioles, their 3-5 hitters essentially haven't shown up for the series. Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have had some of the most horrible strings of plate appearances you will ever see.
Buck Showalter has also benched a future Hall of Famer, with much less fanfare. Lew Ford is the DH instead of Jim Thome. Of course, it's less of a big deal because Thome isn't a face of the Orioles, and isn't due something like $118 million over the next five years. Manny Machado has moved up to 6th, so he can ... drive in all the guys who are pathetically striking out on three pitches? I don't know. Manny is awesome, though.
It's all kinds of appropriate that the season could come down to a series like this. Two extra-inning games, three one-run games, games won by a masterful bullpen, games lost by mental mistakes, unlikely heroes contributing every night (even when they lose) ... it is tough, in this intense atmosphere, to step back and appreciate just how amazing it is that the playoff heroes have been Joe Saunders, Nate McLouth and Manny Machado. Whatever happens tonight, those are the guys going down in Orioles legend. They're already there.
Once, the Yankees seemed to be some great, indestructible beast from myth. They could be killed, perhaps, by great heroes, but there were none of these in Baltimore. So that dragon beat its wings, burninated the stadium, gorged itself on the weak, and left. But now that dragon is older, slower. Its great fire breathes no more. Its rending talons that have slain so many are sharp but easier to dodge. Tough scales have gone soft, fallen off. And all around it stand the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, preparing for the final confrontation, having already fought a battle worthy of song, looking to add a triumphant final verse.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||NEW YORK YANKEES|
|Nate McLouth - LF||Derek Jeter - SS|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Ichiro Suzuki - LF|
|Adam Jones - CF||Robinson Cano - 2B|
|Chris Davis - RF||Mark Teixeira - 1B|
|Matt Wieters - C||Raul Ibanez - DH|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Nick Swisher - RF|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Curtis Granderson - CF|
|Lew Ford - DH||Russell Martin - C|
|Robert Andino - 2B||Eric Chavez - 3B|