Orioles vs. Yankees: Curse of Maier May Be Over

Wednesday October 10th, 2012

The last time the Yankees and Orioles met in Postseason play was in 1996. The Orioles lost that series, and a lot of fingers were pointed at the controversial home run caught young fan, Jeffrey Maier. The Orioles postseason fate may be different this time around against the Bronx Bombers.

Alex Mednick (Baseball Analyst and Writer):

The last time the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees met in the playoffs was in 1996 in the ALCS.  Like in 2012, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter were on the Yankees roster.  The Orioles boasted a lineup that consisted of Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken Jr., B.J Surhoff, and Brady Anderson—who was having a career year.  That lineup, along with a rotation consisting of Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key, gave Baltimore an imposing roster that the Camden Faithful could expect to make a playoff run.

15 years later we see a tale that is much more of a David and Goliath story. The Orioles have not been in the playoff’s since 1997 and have finished 5th place in the AL East for the last 4 consecutive seasons.  The Yankees, conversely, have made the postseason 17 out of the last 18 seasons.  After getting off to a hot start, the Orioles made a trade for future Hall of Famer, Jim Thome, to help add some pop and veteran leadership to their lineup.  Even later in the season, when the team still found themselves in serious contention for October baseball, they called up 20-year-old phenom Manny Machado, who wasn’t even alive when Jim Thome took his first swing in the Major League.  Now, Manny Machado finds himself playing on the same field as his childhood hero, Alex Rodriguez.

20-year-old phenom Manny Machado is now playing the most important games of his young career at third base, mirroring his childhood hero, fellow Miami native Alex Rodriguez.

The 2012 Baltimore Orioles have brought a historic season the Baltimore Harbor, there is no doubt.  Furthermore, they have done it in a completely unexpected fashion…going from the 4th worst team in baseball in 2011, to having the 6th best record in baseball in 2012.  They do not boast the roster of famous ball players like they did in the 70s, or the Yankees currently do.  They do, however, play an amazing cohesive brand of baseball that is, undeniably effective.  There is no doubt that this team, who won 93 games in the AL East, plays the game the right way and can compete with the best.  Often in baseball we talk about players and teams having intangible qualities that allow them to perform in the baseball world at a higher level.  We have seen Derek Jeter demonstrate this with his famous “relay play” in 2001, and we recently saw Manny Machado make a brilliant play demonstrating his 6th sense for baseball against the Rays this past September.  But the Orioles have been playing baseball as if they are from the movie Angels in the Outfield.  It is not just one or two players that are carrying the team, but a true group effort.  You can see the players having a good time and enjoying each other (much akin to the 2004 Red Sox), and we watch the players pick each other up and grind out 20-pitch at-bats to move a guy 90 feet.  You can tell that the Orioles are hungry to win, and they are creating a buzz in Baltimore by playing very exciting, and meaningful baseball in October.

Yankee Stadium may be the House that Ruth Built, but Baltimore is the City that Built the Babe.

Going Into Game 3

The Orioles find themselves walking away from two games in the City that Built the Babe, and preparing to play 3 games in the House the Ruth Built.  The first two games in Camden were split between the Yankees and O’s, leaving the series tied at 1 win a piece.  Frankly, this puts the Orioles in a very good position.  This sounds like a silly thing to say, because obviously walking into the Bronx in October is never an inviting thing to do…but I do have my reasons.  The Orioles biggest disadvantage in post season baseball is indubitably there starting pitching.  Starting pitching plays such an enormous role in short series, and to be able to walk away from the Yankees two best big game pitchers with the series tied, is a good thing.  The middle of the rotation between the Yankees and the Orioles boasts significantly less parity than the top of the rotation, so despite going into the “un-cozy confines” of Yankee Stadium, things actually seem to be on the “up and up”.  Furthermore, the Orioles have what is arguably the best bullpen in all of baseball, consisting of a lot of ground ball pitchers, which will surely help in a stadium with the dimension of Yankee Stadium that makes pitchers so susceptible to the long ball.

The season long series between the Yankees and Orioles is now tied at 10 and 10.  The first to win two more games will not only be the winner of the head to head matchup, but will also win a golden ticket to the ALCS against either the Detroit Tigers or Oakland Athletics.  The Orioles appeared to be at a distinct disadvantage on the mound for the first two games of the series, but Jason Hammel gave C.C. Sabathia a run for his money, and Wei-Yin Chen got a slight edge on Andy Pettitte.  On paper, the Yankees have the two all time active hit leaders on their roster, the number 5 all-time leader in home runs, plus Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.  But the Orioles won only 2 fewer games than the Yankees in the post season, and played them well all year…so we can’t look just at lineup and rotations.  We really need to dig deeper two have any kind of idea of what the next several days are to bring.  The greatest thing, of course, is that postseason baseball always seems to surprise us no matter how much analysis is performed.

The Orioles were able to get by the Yankees two big-game pitchers with the series tied at one-win-a-piece. The Orioles disadvantage in terms of starting pitching is greatly reduced once we get to the middle-of-the-rotation. Furthermore, if it comes down a battle of the bullpens, Baltimore boasts the best in baseball. Above is Jim Johnson, Orioles closer, celebrating another save.

Hiroki Kuroda matches up pretty evenly with Miguel Gonzalez, as does Phil Hughes with either Joe Saunders of Chris Tillman.  So there really is no distinctive advantage on the mound for the next two games.  It does need to be noted, however, that the winner of game 3 will be the much more favored team to actually win the series.  Whichever team loses Game 3, is very unlikely to come back from a 2-1 deficit.

We need to go into Game 3 looking at the fact that Miguel Gonzalez has dominated the Yankees this season.  He has done nothing but go 2-0 against the Bronx Bombers in 2012 while holding them to a minimal earned run average of 2.63…not a small feat!  Hiroki Kuroda has proven himself to very good all season while pitching in Yankee Stadium, and to be an absolute work horse.  After pitching 219 innings, he did appear to be fading late into the season, having posted a 4.44 ERA in his last 8 regular season starts.  While Kuroda has pitched the most innings in his entire career in 2012, we need not forget that he is also into tonight’s game with extra rest.  That being said, the key to the Orioles winning tonight is to do something that they were unable to do in the first two games against C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte: knock out the Yankees starting pitcher early in the game.

Miguel Gonzalez, who is in his first big league season in the MLB, may end up being the biggest factor in this series and whether Baltimore’s great season will advance further. The winner of Game 3 is most likely going to advance to play the Tigers or Athletics in the ALCS.

Getting to the Yankees bullpen early, as well as silencing the Yankees fans, is obviously priority number one for Baltimore.  In terms of pitching, the Orioles really need to focus on keeping the ball on the ground, and not allowing the Yankees to elevate the ball in that pinball machine of a stadium they call Yankee Stadium.  If it comes down to playing small ball and counting on relief pitching, common sense should say that the Orioles have a good number on the Yankees.  The Yankees have struggled all year knocking runners in scoring position in for runs (percentage wise, I am well aware that they scored the second most runs in baseball), and have relied heavily on the long ball.  That being said, Mark Teixiera, who Yankee Stadium’s right field porch seems to have been custom fitted for, has been taking some really nice swings.  You can expect the Orioles to pitch to the struggling A-Rod, and pitch around Robinson Cano.   We can also expect Gonzales to pitch to Nick Swisher, who has been 0 for 6 against Miguel Gonzales this season and is on a 1 for 33 stretch in the postseason, while avoiding Mark Teixiera who bats behind him.

The Yankees lineup consists of some of the best hitters in baseball.  With their professional  approach to the game, it can be assured that the Yankees lineup has been in the clubhouse watching tapes of Miguel Gonzalez trying to figure out why they have been unable to hit him all season.  Ultimately, the Bronx Bombers need to solve Gonzalez to win, because they cannot count on Jeffrey Maier to bail them out and turn fly balls into home runs.  They also can’t count on scoring a lot of runs against Baltimore relievers, and the Yankees players have been outwardly vocal about their respect for various Orioles bullpen arms.

Despite having home field advantage, the pressure is on the Yankees. The Orioles have played evenly with the Yankees all season and are 6-3 at Yankee Stadium. Additionally, the Yankees have been absolutely oppressed at the plate by Miguel Gonzalez, who will be Baltimore’s starter in Game 3. The Yankees, along with their pedigree and legacy having everything to lose while the young Orioles may just be beginning their own legacy a season or two earlier than expected.

While it was stated earlier that the Yankees and Orioles are tied 10 and 10 on the season and that going into Yankee Stadium is no easy task for any visiting ball club, the Orioles are, in fact, 6 and 3 this season at Yankee Stadium.  With the pedigree that the Yankees boast, along with the criticism that players like A-Rod and Swisher have received lately, you might also expect that the “everything to lose” Yankees may have added pressure coming home.  It is not as if the Yankee players are not aware that Game 3 is the most pivotal game in any 5 game series, and that game 4 is expected to be pitched by the inconsistent Phil Hughes.

There is only so much speculation that can be made in the game of baseball.  Nobody would have predicted that the Orioles would be playing baseball in October.  The most knowledgeable baseball minds can ponder hypothetical situations all day, but nobody can tell the future.  This is especially true for post season baseball.  We can throw out facts all day, such as the fact that the last time Kuroda and Gonzales faced off was August 31st, and the Orioles won 6-1.  This does not prove anything.  Both teams want to score more runs than the other team, and that is all that can be known until the game takes place.  We can expect it to be another crazy Game 3 with a lot of twists and turns.

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ***

Alex Mednick is a Baseball Writer and Analyst with MLB Reports.  He has both played and followed the game extensively his entire life.  Alex grew up in New Haven, Connecticut—right in the crossroads of Red Sox Nation and The Yankee Empire.  Somehow, he dodged the bullet of joining the war between these two teams, and a love affair between the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex formed. You can follow Alex on Twitter: @MednickAlex

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