BALITMORE - Okay, so the rivalry the Yankees have with the Orioles doesn’t quite measure up to the blood feud they have with that other East Coast city that starts with B, but there is some rich history in this American League Division Series matchup.
The hostilities may have skipped a generation and you can put the blame for that squarely on the Orioles’ 15-year legacy of mediocrity, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi can personally vouch for the depth of emotion that once existed and is percolating once again. Back in the mid-90s, as the Bronx Bombers awakened from a long post-season hibernation of their own, Baltimore was public enemy No. 1.
“The games were fierce,” said Girardi, after Saturday’s workout at Camden Yards, in advance of today’s series opener.
“We had some crazy games here.”
None of those games lives in infamy in Baltimore more than the opening game of the 1996 ALCS when, with Baltimore leading 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Derek Jeter hit a deep drive at Yankees Stadium. O’s right-fielder Tony Tarasco looked to be in position to make a play but 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and deflected the ball into the stands. Umpire Rich Garcia immediately called it a home run and despite the protestations of the Orioles, the game was tied.
In the ninth inning, Girardi, pinch-hitting for Jim Leyritz, lined into a double play but Bernie Williams’ home run in the bottom of the 11th gave the Yankees the win and they went on to win the series in five games.
“The playoff series was obviously very intense, and you had the (Jeter) fly ball that everyone talked about for a long time and probably was part of the reason that instant replay was brought in on home run balls,” said Girardi.
Andy Pettitte, then 24, started that game for New York. Now 40, Pettitte will start Game 2 of this series on Monday.
“We had good teams and they had good teams and that’s what you have to have to make that kind of fierce rivalry,” said Girardi.
“You think about the calibre of players they had here, you know, they had obviously Cal Ripken and they had Palmeiro and they had the Alomars and they had a number of great players here, and now they’re playing extremely well again. I think it’s good for baseball.”
Indeed, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, has drawn upon Baltimore’s rich baseball heritage, embracing many of the greats of the past and encouraging contact between his current players and those heritage players who helped make Baltimore such a great baseball town.
“Talking to them and seeing the passion in their voice and their eyes when they talked about the city and the ballpark and the fans and the winning, you can put Baltimore’s tradition up against just about everybody,” said Showalter, who mentioned the names of Earl Weaver, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken.
“Obviously one of the exceptions is New York. But we don’t take a backseat when it comes to passion and a background.”
The Orioles haunted the Yankees every step of the way through September, hanging within a game of the division lead just about the entire month, taking their Cinderella story all the way to their 163rd-game win over texas on Friday to earns a spot in this confrontation with New York.
You can call CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ Game 1 starter, impressed.
“I think I look at this (Baltimore) team as the 2007 Indians team I was on,” said Sabathia, “where it was a bunch of guys who had played together for a long time and had a great year, had some success, and were definitely dangerous in the playoffs.
“I know what it’s like to be on that side and have everything going right and the ball is just rolling for you. Hopefully we can stop some of that tomorrow night.”
Don’t count on it. Showalter has a team that is punching way above its weight class, getting contributions from all over the roster.
“Something happens, and you go, gosh, where did that come from?,” marvelled Showalter. “That shouldn’t have happened by the stats sheets. It’s fun to watch.”
None of this should have happened off the Orioles form. If this was horse racing, there would be “inquiry” signs flashing all over the tote board. But, here they are, after 163 games, ready to duke it out with baseball’s greatest franchise.
“You know at some point during the season that the road to trying to win a championship more than likely is going to pass through (New York), so if you can pass through there and come out still standing, then you get a chance to keep playing games,” said Showalter. “I don’t think anybody is surprised to be looking at them. I understand the surprise might be a little bit who’s looking at them.”
WHATEVER BUCK SAYS
After successfully rolling the dice on Joe Saunders in Friday’s wild card game, nobody is going to trifle with Buck Showalter’s logic in naming Jason Hammel as his starting pitcher in Sunday’s American League Division Series opener against the Yankees and CC Sabathia.
The way Showalter’s been pulling the strings for the Baltimore Orioles this year, he could have named Dorothy Hamill to start and everybody would nod in agreement.
Forget that Hammel has made just two starts since undergoing right knee surgery in mid-July. Those two starts occurred in early September and the O’s decided he needed more time.
“I’ve been able to stay on top of my arm along with treating the knee, so I’m not worried about it at all,” said Hammell. “I’m very confident in what I can do, and I’m sure the team is, too.
“My last two sessions have been 75 pitches, I threw 80 before that, and then just (Friday) I threw probably 45, 50 at full capacity. I wasn’t holding back. I’m not going to go out there tentative. If you’re expecting me to just try and feel my way through it, that’s not going to happen.”
Hammel finished the season with an 8-6 record and a 3.43 ERA. At one point, after 14 starts) he was 8-2, 2.61.
Sabathia has been roughed up by the Orioles this year, allowing 13 earned runs in three starts over 18.1 innings (6.56 ERA) but he’s coming off solid starts (eight innings each time) in his last three appearances.
“(The Orioles) have a great lineup, and I’ve faced these guys a lot, and they know what I am trying to do,” said Sabathia. “It’s just up to me to go out and execute pitches, and you know, make sure I keep the ball down.”