By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
1:37 AM EDT, October 11, 2012
The Orioles knew that duplicating their regular-season success at Yankee Stadium wouldn’t be easy – that beating the Yankeesin October in their home ballpark would take an extra level of resiliency.
Now, after a heart-breaking, 12-inning, 3-2 walk-off loss to the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, they will need to reinvent an entirely new brand of Oriole Magic to keep their season alive.
The Orioles were just two outs away from taking a commanding 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. But a pair of solo homers by Raul Ibanez – one to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off homer to open the bottom of the 12th – quickly reversed the roles and put the Orioles on the brink of elimination.
"It's pretty much win or go home tomorrow, isn't it?” said center fielder Adam Jones, who misplayed a ball in center that cost the O’s a run in the third inning. “There's pretty much no turning back. We're going to have the same attitude, the same mentality we've had since the first day of spring training. We're going to have fun, let it fly and live with the results."
Even after Ibanez – pinch-hitting for struggling slugger Alex Rodriguez in the ninth – deposited closer Jim Johnson’s 94-mph fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game, there was no cause for panic.
The Orioles had been the masters of extra innings, winning 16 straight during the regular season.
But when Ibanez came to the plate again in the 12th and took left-hander Brian Matusz’s first pitch of the inning into the right-field stands for the game-winning homer – sending 50,497 fans into a frenzy and prompting a dog pile at the plate – it dealt the Orioles a punch to the gut.
“It breaks your heart,” said Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who pitched masterfully in his first playoff start and was in line for the win before Ibanez’s first homer.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who helped build the Yankees dynasty as manager before an unceremonious departure following the 1995 season, has instilled a never-say-die mentality in his team this season. Now, the O's face their toughest test of the season, a a must-win Game 4 Thursday here in the Bronx.
“I don't have no knot in my stomach,” Showalter said. “Why not? Is that what I'm supposed to do? Is that what conventional thinking is? … We don't live in that world. We're so impressed with all our guys tonight. [They] played a great game in a tough situation, and they'll come out and compete tomorrow.”
The Orioles faced a similar situation a week ago in the one-game wild-card game in Texas, beating the Rangers, 5-1. The O’s also rebounded from a tough Game 1 loss, when they feall 7-2 after heading into the ninth tied, to win Game 2 in Baltimore.
"We've been in this situation before,” said reliever Darren O’Day, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning. "What was it, Friday night? You either win or you go home. That's the mindset we've got to take these next two games."
The Orioles hadn’t lost an extra-inning game since losing back-to-back such games to the Yankees on April 10-11 at Camden Yards. Ibanez also won the first of those games on a 12th-inning ground-rule double.
In the 12th inning Wednesday, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters called for a fastball away, but Matusz’ fateful 91-mph fastball was high and split the plate.
“I made a bad pitch,” Matusz said. “A lot going through my mind. You never want to experience a situation like that. Whether it’s a game-winning walk-off home run or in the first inning. The ultimate goal is to go out there and throw strikes and put up zeros.”
The Orioles bullpen has been its greatest strength and Johnson, who set a club record and led the majors with 51 saves in the regular season, has been its anchor. But after yielding just three homers in 71 regular-season innings, Johnson has allowed two ninth-inning homers in the first three games of the ALDS.
“Frustrating," Johnson said. "I got to get over it quick."
The Orioles, who had won six of nine games at Yankee Stadium during the regular season – taking all three series here – took a 2-1 lead into the ninth after the 28-year-old rookie Gonzalez held the Yankees to one run in seven innings.
The entire Orioles offense came from solo homers by second baseman Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado, who became the first rookie teammates to homer in the same postseason game, according to STATS, LLC.
But the Orioles had just two base hits after Machado’s homer, unable to take advantage of Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda’s early control problems.
Gonzalez, found by the Orioles while pitching with Mazatlan in the Mexican League, entered the season having pitched just one game above Double-A, but he has dominated the Yankees this season in their home ballpark.
Wednesday, he became the first rookie to allow one or fewer runs in seven or more innings against the Yankees in a postseason game since Joe Black of the Brooklyn Dodgers did it in Game 1 of the 1952 World Series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Gonzalez’s eight strikeouts were the second-most by a rookie pitcher against the Yankees in a postseason start behind Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe’s 11 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series. He also became just the second pitcher since 1950 to record eight strikeouts and no walks against the Yankees in a postseason game, joining Cliff Lee, who did the same for the Phillies in Game 1 of the 2009 Wolrd Series.
In three games at Yankee Stadium, Gonzalez – who allowed just one run on five hits over seven innings on Wednesday – is 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA. He’s held the Yankees to a .197 batting average and has 25 strikeouts and just one walk.
"Gonzalez man, he's giving us fits,” Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. “We've faced him two or three times, and he's put it on us."
Unafraid to attack the Yankees hitters, he mixed up a variety of pitches – a four-seam and split-fingered fastball, change up, curveball and slider – to strike out eight Yankees. He held New York’s 2-3-4 hitters of Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano to a combined 0-for-9 with three strikeouts.
Flaherty, a Rule 5 pick this past offseason, put the Orioles up 1-0 in the third inning by ripping a curveball from Kuroda over the right-field fence. It was the Orioles' first homer this postseason and their first in the playoffs since Eric Davis homered in Game 5 of the 1997 American League Championship Series.
Flaherty also became the first player born in Maine to hit a postseason homer.
In the bottom half of the inning, with Russell Martin on second after a one-out double, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hit a ball to center that carried just out of the reach of Jones in center for an RBI triple that tied the game.
Jones took one step in, then retreated toward the warning track, blowing a bubble before the ball bounced just past his outstretched glove.
"I'm not satisfied that I didn't catch the ball,” Jones said. To make an excuse for that would definitely not be me. I point-blank missed the ball. I don't know what happened. I thought it was where it was going to be and thought wrong at that time. It cost us a run."
The 20-year-old Machado led off the fifth by taking an 84-mph hanging slider into the Orioles' bullpen beyond the left-center field fence to give them a 2-1 lead.
Machado, the Orioles' top position prospect heading into the season, spent most of the season at Double-A Bowie before a surprise August call-up. On Wednesday, he became the second-youngest player to hit a postseason home run and the youngest players to homer in the ALDS.
But those homers weren’t enough. The Orioles managed just five hits off Kuroda, who settled down in the late innings, retiring the final 11 Orioles hitters he faced.
The Orioles had the go-ahead run on second base in the top of the 10th against closer Rafael Soriano after Robert Andino singled and moved to second on Machado’s sac bunt. But Nate McLouth lined out to shortstop and Andino was doubled up.
The O’s were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base, including the bases loaded in the fourth inning after Kuroda walked a batter and hit another.
And now, the Orioles – their backs against the wall – must show their ability to rebound once against if they want their season to continue.
"It's a tough loss,” Wieters said. “But we play again tomorrow and there's nothing this team is prepared more for than getting ready to go the next day after a tough loss."
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