NEW YORK - The Baltimore Orioles travelled a long way back from baseball oblivion this year, but the journey came to an end Friday night as they fell 3-1 to the New York Yankees in the fifth and deciding game of their American League Division Series.
Yet even this season-ending loss was typical of the way the Orioles went from 93 losses a year ago to 93 wins this year. Just when it looked as if the Yankees were going to roll to victory largely unopposed, Baltimore rallied and almost turned the tables.
In the end, CC Sabathia ruled. The Orioles came into the eighth inning down 3-0 and had been limited to just one hit and two baserunners by the Yankees ace, but a single and a walk set the stage for Lew Ford’s RBI single. A moment later, Robert Andino’s infield single loaded the bases to put the Orioles, with one out, just a hit away from a tie or perhaps even the lead.
They never got that hit. Sabathia struck out Nate McLouth and got J.J. Hardy to bounce out to end the threat.
“(The Orioles) are very good and they’re very resilient,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “You have a bunch of young kids over there that play the game the right way and play the game hard. We played 23 games (against one another) and there were four runs that separated us. People thought they were going to go away and they never went away.”
Sabathia came back out for the ninth and finished what he had started, setting down the Orioles in order. In the end, he allowed four hits, two walks and struck out nine.
“We just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” said Baltimore manager Buck Showalter. “Sabathia was great today.”
“It is what I am here for,” said Sabathia. “It is what I play the game for. I was just trying to make sure I kept my emotions under wrap. I am very emotional and I can get excited and I felt if I could stay on an even keel, I had a chance.”
Now the Yanks can turn their attention to the Detroit Tigers, who will be at Yankee Stadium for the opening game of the American League Championship Series on Saturday. Andy Pettitte will pitch the opener for the Yankees.
If the Yankees keep Sabathia on normal rest, he won’t pitch until Game 4. If the team needs him in Game 7 he would be working on three days of rest instead of the normal four.
For the first three innings Friday, Sabathia and Baltimore starter Jason Hammel matched perfectos -- 18 up and 18 down -- each slicing through the opposition’s batting order like a hot knife through butter. Sabathia blinked first when McLouth led off the fourth with a single, but it wasn’t much for the Orioles to get excited about. Sabathia set down the next dozen Orioles before that eighth-inning Baltimore rally.
Meanwhile, Hammel erased the first 12 hitters he faced before he ran into trouble in the fifth.
Mark Teixeira led off the inning with a solid line-drive single into right field. When Hammel ignored him with Raul Ibanez -- the hero of Game 3 -- at the plate, Teixeira stole second base. Ibanez, the hero of game three, then hit a groundball single into centre that easily scored Teixeira as the Yankees drew first blood.
In the top of the sixth, the Orioles thought they had tied the game when McLouth belted a 3-1 pitch down the right-field line. The ball easily had the distance for a home run but hooked its way past the foul pole on the right side and was called foul by umpire Fieldin Culbreth. At the request of the Orioles, the umpires consulted replays to make sure the call was right, but even the replays could not confirm that the ball did not graze the pole as it went by. The foul ball call stood. McLouth struck out on the next pitch.
The Yankees extended their lead in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Derek Jeter walked, then came all the way around to score standing up on Ichiro Suzuki’s double off the wall in right-centre.
In the seventh, Curtis Granderson, who came into the game 1-for-16 in the series, stroked his second hit of the game, a towering one-out solo home run that put the Yankees up 3-0.
In the end, the Orioles just couldn’t get their offence untracked against the Yankees. The O’s scored only 10 runs in five games and hit only .187 as a team. This from a team that averaged 5.1 runs-per-game in the last 31 games of the regular season and entered the playoffs on a 21-10 run.
“It’s been about as much fun as I have had in the big leagues watching how they play the game every day, the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore with each other,” Showalter said of his players. “It was about them. They cared about pleasing their teammates and playing to a certain standard.
“Not one of these guys wallow around in self pity. They get frustrated for the right reasons, because they want to contribute. I don’t get frustrated with them, I get frustrated for them because we know how good they are.”