The Orioles are leaning on rookie lefty Wei-Yin Chen to even… (Mitch Stringer, US PRESSWIRE )
So now the Orioles hand the ball to Wei-Yin Chen, and all they ask the 27-year-old rookie lefty from Taiwan to do is hold off the powerful New York Yankees and keep this magical Orioles season on the right track.
The big question for Chen is this: can he do it in October?
Can he do it on the big stage?
Can he handle the pressure of postseason play, which is to the regular season what medical school is to high school?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this ain't the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League, where Chen pitched for four years before signing with the O's. Although as Buck Showalter likes to point out, pitching in front of thousands of fans in baseball-mad Japan isn't for wusses, either.
In any event, Chen appears to be approaching his Game 2 start in the American League Division Series — with the Orioles trailing 1-0 — via the classic American technique for blocking out bad thoughts.
At least metaphorically, he's stuffing his fingers in his ears and shouting loud enough to drown out everything else.
"I don't want to think too much about [my] approach at the end of the season," Chen said Sunday through his interpreter, Tim Lin. "Even though this is the postseason now, I'm still keeping the same [mindset]. I don't want to think too much, and I hope everything is the same."
Oh, he'll find out that everything is definitely not the same in October, when you basically throw out that 12-11 record and 4.03 ERA and start over.
Then again, it's not like Chen isn't used to the spotlight. He had some two million TV viewers watching back in Taiwan when he made his major league debut for the Orioles in April.
That game was also against the Yankees, and Chen gave up seven hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings in an outing that underscored he was playing at a whole different level now.
Over a dozen Taiwanese TV and print reporters were in Baltimore for that game, and Chen has been trailed by a media contingent from his homeland all season long.
Coverage overkill? Not in equally-baseball-mad Taiwan. Not when you consider Chen was only the fifth player from that small country to pitch in the major leagues.
What's remarkable is how well Chen has fit into this Orioles team, which is as loose a collection of personalities as you'll find in baseball.
Chen professed his curiosity about American culture from the first day he arrived, and he said his goal was to assimilate into all aspects of life with his new team. He's busily trying to learn English with the help of his interpreter, the wry Lin. He's taken a number of the Orioles out for authentic Mandarin food.
Whatever he's doing, it seems to be working. In the jubilant O's clubhouse after their wild-card win over the Texas Rangers on Friday night, Chen was singing and dancing and spraying champagne like a veteran, even going so far as to yoke winning pitcher Joe Saunders around the neck.
Naturally, one of the first things the Orioles taught Chen to do was to — here's a shocker — curse in English.
This, of course, is because hearing foreign players rattle off a string of the most foul-mouthed four-letter words remains an endless source of amusement for American ballplayers everywhere.
So now we'll see how Chen does Monday night in his matchup with veteran Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte.
Chen has had a solid season for the Orioles. He's been a workhorse, too, the only pitcher who's started more than 20 times for the club.
But he's been inconsistent the past month amid fears he might be wearing down from the long, grueling season.
He hasn't won a game since Aug. 19. He lost four games in September, including back to back defeats to the Yankees, which has to be in the back of his mind somewhere.
Showalter has tried to spread out Chen's workload and give him more rest. And Chen looked decent in his last start, scattering six hits and allowing four runs in the Orioles' 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, when the floodgates opened on Manny Machado's error at third.
But Chen will probably need to be way more than decent in Game 2 against the Yankees. Sunday, he was still trying to block out all the hype and all the expectations and all the questions about how he'd hold up in the heat of the postseason.
He seemed to be looking forward to Monday night — a sell-out crowd at Camden Yards, the first playoff game for the O's in 15 years, the Yankees digging in against him in the biggest game of his life.
"I never thought of pitching in the postseason," he said, "and this is really a big dream for me."
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."