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The Orioles and Yankees fought to a 2-2 tie going into the ninth inning, but Jim Johnson fell apart and allowed four runs to decide the game.
Greeting, my fellow Camden Chatters. My apologies for not posting a recap of last night's game, well, last night. But it turns out that after a 2 1/2 hour rain delay followed by a 3 1/2 hour game that ended as last night's did, writing a 1000-word or so article just wasn't in me. But I'm here now, and ready to tell you all about it.
First, if you didn't have the chance to be at yesterday's game, the atmosphere was amazing. Even as thousands stood in the concourse, waiting for the rain to stop, spirits were high with "Let's Go O's!" chants breaking out throughout the delay. It was cold and a little uncomfortable and not really the way I imagined my first playoff game in fifteen years, but it was awesome. And when the rain stopped and the fans poured into their seats, the energy kicked into high gear. The Bird, clad in a tuxedo for the special occasion, raced around the outfield stopping at every part of the park to lead cheers in the crowd, even though on this night of all nights we didn't really need encouragement.
After the player introductions, the ceremonial first pitches came from Jesse Wasmer and Daniel Borowy, from Perry Hall High School. If you're not familiar with the story, on the first day of school this year, a young man brought a gun to PHHS with intentions of shooting the place up. He did shoot one student, Daniel Borowy, but before he could continue the guidance counselor, Jesse Wasmer, tacked him, probably saving the lives of multiple other people. I'd seen speculation around the web about who should throw out the first pitch, but I don't think a better decision could have been made. To add an extra punch of emotion, the pitches were thrown out to Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, who were introduced as the longest tenured players on the Orioles who cannot play due to injury.
On to the actual game. It was great to see Jason Hammel back on the mound, although it was safe to say he wasn't in tip-top form. Leadoff batter Derek Jeter started the game with a classic Jeter hit; the ball bounced about ten time in the infield before just getting past a diving Robert Andino. The next batter, Ichiro Suzuki, was more decisive with his hit, a double to the left-center gap. Jeter scored easily and Ichiro ended up on second base. This wasn't how it was supposed to go, was all I could think. The Yankees were already ahead and had another in scoring position with no outs?
Then Ichiro did the Orioles a favor. For reasons I don't know he tried to steal third base. He was already in scoring position, there were no outs, he's a fast dude, and the next few batters in the lineup certainly weren't slouches. But whatever the reasons, I thank him. Matt Wieters fired to third base and nabbed him easily. Hammel went on to strike out Alex Rodriguez (who had an embarrassing night at the plate) and retire Robinson Cano on a fly out.
For most of this game, the Orioles looked like they didn't know what to do with CC Sabathia. He got out of the first inning with just seven pitches thrown, and just twenty after two innings. But finally they got to him in the third inning to take the lead. Back-to-back singles from Chris Davis and Lew Ford, plus a sac bunt from Andino, but two runners in scoring position for Nate McLouth. McLouth, who I feel needs some sort of magic-related nickname to describe the job he's done this season, singled into right field, scoring both runners. The crowd went crazy and when McLouth returned to his place in left field at the top of the next inning, the fans in that section gave him a nice ovation.
As for Hammel, he got through the next two innings unscathed, but his pitch count was hurting. Already at 55 pitches heading into the fourth, he lost control of the strike zone and walked Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher with a Cano ground out in between. That brought the hated Mark Teixeira to the plate, who in addition to receiving the righteous boos that he always does, also got a "traii-tor" chant in his direction.
Can I make a request, those of you reading this? Can you knock that off? Boo all you like, boo them all if you want. But you're on national TV calling a guy a traitor for not wanting to sign with a losing team for less money just because he grew up here. As my mom would say, you're showing your butt. And it's not cute.
Teixeira singled to right field, scoring Rodriguez from second. Swisher went into third base, and Teixeira tried to stretch his single to a double. Let me tell you something, Chris Davis may not be the most natural outfielder in the game, but he has got a bullet for an arm. Teixeira was gunned down for the second out, and after an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin flew out to end the inning. Only one run scored, but Hammel threw nearly 30 pitches in the inning and it looked like he'd be lucky to go five innings total.
After the fourth inning, the Orioles spent the next several innings wasting their chances on the bases while their pitchers worked magic on the mound. They put two runners on in the fifth, but couldn't score. Two runners on in the sixth, couldn't score. A leadoff double in the eighth by J.J. Hardy, he was stranded. Chance after chance squandered, but thanks to Darren O'Day and Brian Matusz, they didn't fall behind the Yankees.
Hammel started the sixth inning and retired the first two batters, Rodriguez and Cano, and when Swisher singled, Buck Showalter went to the pen. He brought in lefty Troy Patton, who gave up a single to Teixeira before retiring Granderson thanks to a fantastic play by Chris Davis. Granderson lofted a high fly ball that looked off the bat like it could be a homer, but instead it fell into foul territory in the triangle of right field. Chris Davis raced into the triangle, disappearing from view of most people in the ballpark, and made a great catch.
Patton started the seventh inning and was not good. He walked the first two batters before being replaced by Darren O'Day, who would need to pull a Houdini act to get out of this jam. Jeter bunted the two runners over, and Ichiro hit a grounder to second base. Russell Martin broke for home and Andino fired to Matt Wieters, who played the ball on a bounced and tagged him out. Yeah! Now that's playoff baseball! All O'Day needed to do after that was retire A-Rod, and he struck him out swinging. Great job by O'Day.
Brian Matusz came on to pitch the eighth inning, and was fantastic. He retired Cano and Swisher, but then walked Teixeira on four pitches. I was cursing in my seat. Get it together Brian! Well, it became clear that he was pitching around Teixeira to get to Granderson, who he struck out on three pitches.
So we headed to the ninth tied 2-2, and that's where everything went to pieces. Even with it not being a save situation, Buck went to Jim Johnson. I thought it was a good idea and even the way it turned out, I still think so. You want your best pitcher in a high leverage situation, you don't want to hold him back for a save situation just because.
The first batter JJ faced was Russell Martin, who launched a solo home run to left field. It landed just feet from me, and as people scrambled around to get the ball I hung my head, unable to watch. If JJ could just get out of it now, the O's still had a chance. But three singles later, including an infield hit by Ichiro that scored a run, and I didn't feel like JJ could get out of it. He finally got the first out on a strikeout of (who else) Alex Rodriguez, but Cano got to him for a double that scored two more, with a bad throw by Hardy allowing Cano to get to third.
That was it for JJ, as Tommy Hunter was brought in to replace him. He gave up a sacrifice fly that scored another run, but retired Teixeira to end the inning.
The life was sucked out of the stadium after that. The crowd began thinning, and those that remained were shell shocked. They came to life a bit when Lew Ford hit a two-out double in the 9th, but it was short lived as pinch hitter Ryan Flaherty (not Jim Thome for some reason) struck out against David Robertson to end the game.