Leave it to the Yankees to suck all the joy out of the Orioles' first playoff game in 15 years. They have made a habit of that kind of thing, so it probably was silly to expect anything else in the long-awaited American League Division Series opener at Camden Yards.
Maybe the Orioles and their fans were fooling themselves to think their magical season would mean anything against the $200 million Yankees lineup that has bullied them for all these many years.
There’s no other way to explain them scoring five runs in the ninth inning off Jim Johnson, who has been one of the most dominating closers in the major leagues. There’s no other way to explain the collection of big and little hits that caused a seemingly classic playoff showdown between the two best teams in the American League East to devolve into 7-2 mess that left the Orioles already in desperate shape in the best-of-five series.
It figured to come down to one big swing – and Russell Martin provided that to lead off the ninth – but who would have expected the game to come completely unraveled against a 51-save guy who lets an inning blow up about once every total lunar eclipse?
The Orioles had held things together against Yankees ace CC Sabathia with a gutty performance by Jason Hammel and another series of clutch bullpen outings. Manager Buck Showalter was just trying to buy a little more time with Johnson, who was pitching in a rare non-save situation, but he wilted under a shower of hits, and the wrong team got to congratulate each other on the infield at the end.
The last time the Orioles and Yankees played a postseason game at Camden Yards, the Yankees won the right to return to the World Series after a 15-year absence. The Orioles waited 15 years for the opportunity to return to the postseason, but this loss – even though it was only in Game 1 – has left them facing a mountain that finally might be too high.
That has to be discouraging after the way Hammel dug so deep in his second comeback from midseason knee surgery, but maybe it’s all just prelude to another amazing display of resilience from a team that has appeared to be on its way out before.
"It depends on whether you want to dwell on the negative or the positive,'' Showalter said. "I understand what time of year it is when it's all goat-hero time. Our guys get it. This is a very realistic club that lives in reality, but they also understand the sense of urgency. ... I don't doubt what kind type of mentality our guys will have as we go forward in this series."
Remember, the Orioles looked like they were about to come crashing back to reality when Hammel got hurt in July, and they sagged back to within a few games of .500. There were a couple junctures in September and early October when they looked like they might blink, but made dynamic turnarounds each time to fight their way into this matchup against against their most storied rival.
They’ll have to win three of the next four games and do most of the heavy lifting the Bronx, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
They do, however, have a very wily old veteran in left-hander Andy Pettitte taking the mound for the Yankees in Game 2 on Monday night, and he’s been known to twist an Orioles lineup like it was a soft pretzel.
Pettitte has beaten the Orioles more than any other team over the course of his career. He’s got a 27-6 record and a 3.52 ERA against them and that doesn’t even count his victory in the deciding game of the 1996 American League Championship Series. That series started, of course, with the notorious “Jeffrey Maier” game, which Pettitte also started and might have lost if not for the litle brat.
He claims he doesn’t remember a lot about that series, and we’ll have to take him at his word since we’ve spent 16 years trying to forget it.
“Just that I remember it was a good series,’’ said Pettitte, who apparently has forgotten that it couldn’t have been that great if the Yankees finished won the best-of-seven in five games. “I remember I believe I had the opportunity to pitch the clinching game here that helped us get to the World Series.”
That about sums it up, so the Orioles will have a revenge angle to go with all the other reasons the O’s have for wanting to win Game 2.
In this two-at-home, three-on-the-road format, they really don’t have any other firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here” at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts “The Week in Review” at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.