It's nearly a day later and I'm still sick on the inside. Aside from a sheer lack of talent, it's obvious I'm not meant to be a professional baseball player. How do you go out the next day after failing in such a heartbreaking way? I don't know how, but the Orioles will do it today, and bless them.
It'll be small comfort if they are consigned to a footnote to the eventual World Series winner tonight or tomorrow night, but one thing you can say about them is they belong here. They have showed it in this series, though they are down two games to one. The games are close and tense, and the stuff that October legends are made of - these Orioles are not the Twins, making it to the playoffs only to play patsy to the Yankees two years running. They are fighting, battling, hanging close despite having no offensive production in this series worth noting.
Tonight, they fight again. The hero of the wild card game, Joe Saunders, comes up looking for magic again. Is there more to be found in the tank, or has that all run out?
Two narratives will enter, and only one will leave. Will it be the gritty, grinding (overpriced) veterans coalescing for one last championship run? If so, I'll just go ahead and prepare to vomit for the rest of my life whenever baseball commentators bring up this season. Perhaps it will be the plucky, magical Orioles fighting and clawing their way through to another round of the postseason.
The regular season saw its share of cold stretches. We can all remember them. Back-to-back shutouts against the Mets? Six-game losing streak with five of the games coming against the Royals and Blue Jays? We have seen a lot, and they have bounced back, but in the regular season there is more time to bounce back. In a best of five series, there is no cushion. The Orioles must bounce back tonight or go home for the winter. That's all there is to it.
The target for their frustration is going to be Phil Hughes, who's been the next great Yankees pitcher for like forever. He has never quite delivered. He'll get a chance to etch his own name into October legend tonight. In the regular season, Hughes had a 4.23 ERA in 191.1 IP. His worst problem was giving up home runs - he gave up 35. That may be a good sign for a starved Orioles lineup. His walk rate is pretty low, but who cares because most of the Orioles won't take walks anyway? A strike-thrower could be just what they need.
They need something, that's for sure. A whole host of Orioles have essentially not shown up offensively in the first three games: J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Jim Thome, here's looking at you. Can't rely on solo home runs from a pair of rookies in Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado and expect to win a whole lot of playoff games. Are they worn out? Are they worn down? Are they preparing poorly? Are they just having poor fortune in this game of inches?
I don't know which it is. Whatever it is, they have it in them to solve it. You don't get a 93-69 record in the regular season entirely by luck. Things can be fixed, but they are running out of time. Should they fix it enough to win tonight, CC Sabathia looms large tomorrow - but no sense worrying about that until we have to. Hughes is the challenge tonight, and if Saunders bests Hughes, not having a third bullpen meltdown in four games.
They have a chance, and we're not talking a one-in-a-million chance either. Maybe it's even 50-50, which is the most terrifying, because if the stakes are that high on a coin flip, the waiting is agonizing. I am proud of them, whatever happens. Though, if they lose, the disappointment will take time to fade, but I know eventually we will all remember all of this fondly. Tonight, though, it is truly a must-win game, and I am nervous, which probably means there is only one answer here.
As Gary Thorne would tell us: fly straight! DRINK!
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||NEW YORK YANKEES|
|Nate McLouth - LF||Derek Jeter - DH|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Ichiro Suzuki - LF|
|Chris Davis - RF||Mark Teixeira - 1B|
|Adam Jones - CF||Robinson Cano - 2B|
|Matt Wieters - C||Alex Rodriguez - 3B|
|Jim Thome - DH||Nick Swisher - RF|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Russell Martin - C|
|Ryan Flaherty - 2B||Curtis Granderson - CF|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Jayson Nix - SS|