Orioles manager Buck Showalter shakes hands with Yankees manager… (The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE,…)
NEW YORK — The Orioles have done the improbable so many times this year that it would be foolhardy to assume that the odds are now stacked so high against them that they cannot get out of Yankee Stadium with their title hopes alive.
They have certainly created another situation that calls for more than the usual dose of Oriole Magic. They need to pick themselves off the grass after another painful pinstriped loss and win tonight's Game 4 just to earn the right to stare down Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia in a climactic Division Series-deciding game Friday.
Can they do it after having their hearts handed to them in back-to-back at-bats by Yankees super sub Raul Ibanez?
“We still control what we're going to be able to do,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Now we've got to win two games instead of one.”
It's not an impossible task by any means — especially when you consider the way the Orioles have gotten to this unexpected point in the postseason — but they're going to need to change the script a bit and put more pressure on the Yankees pitching staff to stage a comeback of the necessary magnitude.
They accomplished something unprecedented when rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado hit home runs in the same postseason game, but that little piece of history was worth only two runs and that was all the Orioles offense could manage against Hiroki Kuroda and a couple of Yankees relievers.
Miguel Gonzalez and Darren O'Day made the runs stand up for eight innings, but closer Jim Johnson got his aura of invincibility punctured for the second time in three Division Series games when pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez — replacing struggling Alex Rodriguez to a loud ovation from the sellout crowd of 50,497 — drove a 1-0 fastball down home run alley in right-center field to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Ibanez came back in the 12th and hit the game-winning homer in the 3-2 Yankees' victory.
The Orioles had won 16 consecutive games in extra innings, but all that did was allow the Yankees to team up with the law of averages to make this defeat an even bigger kick in the teeth.
How do you bounce back from that?
How many devastating disappointments can one young team endure before the rear-view mirror cracks and the mojo leaks out?
Showalter will undoubtedly insist that this team has a special chemistry that will allow it to forget what happened in Game 3 and focus squarely on tonight's matchup against 16-game winner Phil Hughes. He may be right, but that won't matter if the Orioles continue to walk the run-differential tightrope they fell off of Wednesday night.
Somebody is going to have to deliver a wakeup call to the heart of the batting order, which has been all but invisible during the first three games of this series. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have combined for just three hits in 26 at-bats during this Division Series and No. 2 hitter J.J. Hardy is just 1-for-11.
Jones and Wieters are supposed to make the offense go and they have gone missing at a most inopportune time. It's fair to speculate that has something to do with inexperience and an inability to a dial down their adrenaline in key situations, but Showalter wasn't ready to do that.
“It's a short sampling, like early in the year in April when guys go through periods, you trust the track record,” Showalter said. “Matt has hit some balls right on the button. Adam put us in position to have a potential big inning tonight and the job that Matt did behind the plate…I can't tell you how challenging that is to put down the great fingers that he does. That's just part of this time of year. We dwell on the short stats and rightfully so, because there is a sense of finality to the games.”
The great postseason performers claim that it isn't a matter of stepping up in big situations. It's more about being able to maintain the same competitive edge that got them into the playoffs in the first place.
There's no question that that some of the Orioles hitters are operating with too much of what Showalter calls “want-to” and it is keeping them from doing the things that has set the bullpen up with enough cushion to get through the ninth inning.
For eight innings, this was 2012 Orioles baseball in a nutshell. Three rookies — one of them a journeyman minor leaguer who last pitched meaningful games in the Mexican League — distributing the credit for what would have been an uplifting Orioles victory that paled in this century only to the win in Texas that propelled the club into this series.
Instead, it was just another one of those games that the Yankees have become so famous for winning when it counts the most.
Sad but true.
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.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app