BALTIMORE - Six months after the Baltimore Orioles started crafting this turnaround season, there are still folks who aren’t sold, who think they’ve been doing it with mirrors.
So when the lynchpin of their bullpen, Jim Johnson, melted down in Game 1 of this American League Division Series Sunday in a messy 7-2 New York Yankee win, it may have seemed the sky was falling in.
Twenty-four hours later, the Orioles bounced back in the way they have bounced back so often this season: with a 3-2 victory that sends this best-of-five series to New York tied at 1-1.
Wei-Yin Chen proved his playoff mettle by pitching 6.1 bend-but-don’t-break innings in his first North American playoff game. He allowed eight hits and just one earned run, refusing to give in to the powerful Yankee lineup.
As usual, the Orioles got what they needed from various places in the lineup. Chris Davis drove in a pair of runs to give Baltimore the lead for good in the third inning as the O’s delivered four two-out base hits. Mark Reynolds then drove in what turned out to be the winning run, scoring catcher Matt Wieters from second with a single in the sixth.
“I think that’s kind of what’s made this team get where it is this year is that we know that we’re going to have different guys step up every night and be able to drive in runs,” said Wieters. “I think the big thing is that we just want everybody to play to their ability and not worry about where you’re hitting in the lineup or what your stats are.”
The Sunday loss could have been devastating to a fragile ballclub but the word “fragile” isn’t in manager Buck Showalter’s lexicon.
“There are no flukes in baseball,” he said before Monday’s game. “No Cinderellas. You play too many games. We play 162 games. That kind of mentality doesn’t play for long, believe me.
“I’ve been on clubs that won 100 games and there were times in those seasons when we went through stretches where it didn’t feel like we’d ever win another game. And I’ve had teams that lost 90-something games and there were times during those seasons when we felt like we’d never lose another game. So you have to try to always keep your grip on reality.”
The reality for Baltimore Monday was that they beat Andy Pettitte, who has won more postseason games as a pitcher than anyone in baseball history. And the bullpen that couldn’t get the job done in a tie game on Sunday, shepherded a one-run lead through the final two innings Monday, with Johnson finishing the job as he had done 51 times this season.
The Orioles, who went 73-0 in games they led after seven innings during the regular season, have already added two more in the playoffs.
The Yanks went out front in an action-packed top of the first. Derek Jeter led off with a single into centre on an 0-2 pitch. Ichiro Suzuki then hit what should have been a double-play ball that first baseman Reynolds mishandled, putting runners at first and second. Alex Rodriguez than smoked a line drive that second baseman Robert Andino backhanded on the fly, flipping to second base to get Jeter. Only Suzuki’s alert reaction prevented it from being a triple play. Cano then belted a double into the right field corner and Suzuki raced around the bases. The relay was on the money and beat the runner to the plate by 20 feet but somehow Suzuki feinted his way around catcher Matt Wieters, who had moved up the third base line and couldn’t get back to the plate in time to tag him.
Meanwhile Andy Pettitte mowed down the first eight men he faced but a two-out broken bat single by Andino in the third broke the spell. Nate McLouth followed with another single, J.J. Hardy walked and then Davis looped a third single into right field to score a pair of runs to give the O’s the lead. Jones followed with a fourth single past the range-limited Jeter that should have scored Hardy but Rodriguez faked the runner into believing the ball was still on the infield and Hardy failed to pick up the third base coach, who was waving him home. Wieters popped out to end the inning.
The Orioles opened up some breathing room in the sixth. Wieters led off with a double to the wall in right-centre and he was promptly driven in by a Mark Reynolds single into short right-centre to make it 3-1.
In the top of the seventh, the Yankees got within a run when Jeter drove in Eduardo Nunez from second with a single but they could not get the equalizer. Not against Darren O’Day, not against Brian Matusz and, ultimately, not against Johnson who took down Jeter, Suzuki and A-Rod in order in the ninth.