The choices available to Orioles manager Buck Showalter for the starting pitcher in what could be the only postseason game for the team were not robust. The team's best pitchers were needed in the last series of the regular season to attempt to secure the AL East title. Falling short of that, they are left with Joe Saunders and Steve Johnson for a one-game playoff.
In the afternoon's press conference with the traveling reporters - there are more of them in the playoffs, imagine - the choice was revealed: Saunders would be the starter. Though the son of Dave was a possibility, Baltimore Sun beat writer Eduardo Encina wrote that the team "isn't 100% sure with (Johnson's) knee" - and that really only left Saunders.
Did you just unleash a cry of primal angst? Here we are, fifteen years since the last Orioles postseason appearance, and they have to win one game to move on and it's going to be started by Saunders, against the Rangers, in Arlington? The numbers are out there: in six career starts in Arlington, Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA. Anyway, Saunders has only faced the Rangers once in the last three seasons. But he is a lefty, flyball pitcher, and Texas has some power righties, especially Adrian Beltre. He told reporters, "Tomorrow is another day."
And sure enough, it is. 2012 has finally turned out to be "next year" for the beaten down Orioles fanbase. One game, winner takes all, Yu Darvish vs. Joe Saunders. Doesn't exactly sound like an even matchup, but the O's have been playing with house money for quite some time now. There's nothing to lose except for the unrefundable Ticketmaster fees for everyone who optimistically purchased a bunch of playoff tickets, and when you consider the sheer enjoyment this year's team has already brought us, you still come out on top.
Another reason to feel better about Saunders, beyond just blind faith, is that the nature of roster construction for the one-game playoff is that Showalter can load up the bullpen for just this game. He can have a series of one- or two-inning power guys ready to go if Saunders falters. He can play a couple of match-ups. And anything can happen in one game - just ask James Shields. All it takes is good pitching, a few lucky breaks and one big swing.
Turns out that's three areas in which the Orioles have excelled all year. Perhaps Texas is reeling from their division collapse. There is hope to be found, for you and I. Somehow, I don't think the Orioles need any hope. They already believe they can win the whole freaking thing. The world has not yet proven them wrong.