The story of the Baltimore Orioles has been well-documented. In fact, this is at least the 58,700,000th time that “Baltimore Orioles” and “well-documented” have been used together on the same web page. So, even the phrases being used to describe the Baltimore’s story this season are being over-used.

Proof:

While the narrative that’s developed around the Orioles suggests that the team’s triumphant return to the playoffs, given their uncanny record in extra innings and one-run games, combined with their minuscule run differential, is based solely on luck, this is far from an accurate description of the road that led Baltimore to face the New York Yankees in this American League Division Series.

If we travel back in time to the middle of the summer, the Orioles were indeed lucky to be only ten games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and a half game behind the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card spot, but their record was only 47-44 on July 18th. They were hardly what would be considered a dominant baseball club, and if we’re going to point to their supposed luck in being in the position that they were, we also have to point to the apparent bad luck found in every single other team in their division, except the aforementioned Yankees.

Since then however, we cannot use run differential as a crutch to defend our preconceived notions about the team. Consider this:

  • On July 18th, 2012: 47-44 record, .516 winning percentage and a -56 run differential.
  • On October 4th, 2012: 93-69 record, .574 winning percentage and a +7 run differential.

The Orioles capitalized on their opportunity by becoming a better baseball team as the season progressed, not via some strange pact with Satan. While certainly performances from unexpected sources have helped them along the way, as has timely hitting and the uncanny success of the bullpen, that doesn’t mean that the team is winning poker pots based solely on the hand they’re being dealt.

Perhaps this is best seen in the team’s handling of the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card play-in game on Friday night. Baltimore started Joe Saunders, got a better than anticipated performance out of the left-hander and capitalized on the opportunity he gave the team to win the game and limit the damage that the Texas Rangers offense could do. However, the team wisely set itself in a position to protect itself in case Saunders didn’t perform at the level that he thankfully did. We say that they were lucky to get the performance out of Saunders that they did, but we’d also say that they were lucky to get the performances out of the relievers who would’ve come into the game sooner if Saunders hadn’t pitched as well.

While this approach might make them appear unglamorous and unsophisticated, the Orioles are anything but undeserving of the chance to play the Yankees this evening. They’ve seized the opportunities they’ve been given, and overcome odds just like any other team in their position.

New York, meanwhile continues to be New York. The Yankees have struggled at times throughout the later stages of this season, but their success in the early part of the year carried them through, along with the “typically surprising” performances from past-their-prime veterans like Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez.

Tonight’s story line was the opposite of Baltimore’s year to date, as they simply could not capitalize on any of the opportunities they were granted by the ruling aristocrats of the American League. And once the Yankees were finished toying with crafty peasant citizens, New York pounced, putting up a cruel and crooked number in the ninth to win the game 7-2.

Here’s how it happened:

Pre Game Notes

Tonight’s starting pitchers and lineups:

Jason Hammel gets the call for the Orioles in his first appearance since aggravating his surgically-repaired knee on September 11. The Yankees counter with staff ace C.C. Sabathia who has pitched very well down the stretch.

New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles
SS Derek Jeter LF Nate McLouth
LF Ichiro Suzuki SS J.J. Hardy
3B Alex Rodriguez CF Adam Jones
2B Robinson Cano C Matt Wieters
RF Nick Swisher 1B Mark Reynolds
1B Mark Teixeira 3B Manny Machado
CF Curtis Granderson DH Chris Davis
C Russell Martin RF Lew Ford
DH Raul Ibanez 2B Robert Anddino

First pitch was originally scheduled for 6:15 PM ET, but bad weather has gotten in the way. After a long delay, it’s finally been announced:

So, this seems appropriate:

First Inning: New York 1 – Baltimore 0

And we’re under way in Baltimore. Derek Jeter leads off with a single, and the TBS broadcast crew is totally cool about it, not making it out as though he’s the greatest baseball player of all time at all. Ichiro hits a double to the gap in left center, scoring Jeter. With the crowd still stunned, Ichiro gets caught trying to steal third, and suddenly Camden Yards is booming again.

The crowd can be heard taunting Alex Rodriguez, despite being down by a run in the first. A-Rod gets caught looking for strike three. Robinson Cano flies out to end the top of the first. There must have been a miscommunication on the Ichiro steal attempt because it looked as though Rodriguez was attempting to bunt on the pitch. This is the worst possible idea, because it draws the third baseman in toward the bag, negating the only advantage that the runner has in trying to steal third base.

Three up and three down for C.C. Sabathia who works incredibly quickly against the top third of the #YOLOrioles lineup.

Second Inning: New York 1 – Baltimore 0

Hammel tries to pitch backwards to Nick Swisher, but ends up walking him on four straight pitches instead. Mark Teixeira flies out and Curtis Granderson hits into a fielder’s choice to bring up Russell Martin, who fouls out without much drama.

In the home half, Sabathia, again working incredibly quickly, gets three Orioles up, and sends three Orioles down, including Mark Reynolds on a strike out.

The third strike of the at bat was taken, and not swung at, but this is still kind of funny:

Third Inning: New York 1 – Baltimore 2

Hammel mimics Sabathia, working incredibly quickly while only allowing three Yankees to bat. He’s struck out three batters already. Sabathia runs into trouble in the bottom part of the inning, as he gives up back-to-back singles to Chris Davis and Lew Ford. Robert Andino drops down a sacrifice bunt that advances both, which reminds me of this:

Nate McLouth follows up by slapping a hanging slider from Sabathia for a bases clearing single. The Orioles have not been afraid to swing at first pitches from the Yankees starter, while New York has allowed Hammel to get ahead of the count a lot in the early going. J.J. Hardy grounds into a double play to end the inning.

Fourth Inning: New York 2 – Baltimore 2

A-Rod walks, and then advances to second on a Cano ground out. Swisher draws another walk, putting runners at first and second. Tex hits one off the wall in right, but is thrown out at second. Rodriguez scores, and Swisher stops at third. Hammel walks Granderson, and looks to be having serious trouble locating his pitches. Thankfully, Martin flies out to center to end the Yankees threat. Hammel’s pitch count is up to 84. It wouldn’t surprise me if the O’s go to the bullpen early.

Sabathia gets the first two batters he faces out before giving up a walk to Reynolds. Machado quickly hits into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. The Yankees starter has thrown 43 pitches to Hammel’s 84 after four innings. Despite this difference, the score remains tied at two. Clearly, this is the work of #YOLOrioles witchcraft.

Fifth Inning: New York 2 – Baltimore 2

Hammel returns and has gone back to dealing quickly, as it’s three up and three down for the Yankees including strike outs to both Jeter and Ichiro. So far tonight, only two of the twenty batters that Hammel has faced have swung at his first pitch. He’s been taking advantage of this to get ahead of the count in all, but the fourth inning.

Davis leads off with a bloop single into center field. Ford advances the runner, and almost gets on base after his swinging bunt. Andino follows up with a single of his own, advancing Davis to third, with one out and McLouth up to bat. He takes a fastball on the outside corner from Sabathia for strike three. Then, Hardy hits into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Sixth Inning: New York 2 – Baltimore 2

Swisher gets on base for the third time tonight, with a two-out single. That spells the end of Hammel’s night. He pitched an impressive five and two-thirds innings, in which he allowed only two runs on four hits and four walks, while striking out five. The Yankees wore him out, making him throw 112 pitches before getting pulled. We’ll see if forcing the starter out early was a good idea or bad idea for New York.

Troy Patton comes in, and quickly gives up a hit to Teixeira. With runners on first and second, Granderson fouls out to deep right on an awkward catch from Chris Davis. I say awkward, but in all honesty, I couldn’t see it because it appeared to happen in a closet or on the set of the sequel to 8 mm.

In the home half of the inning, Jeter bobbles what should have been the third out of the inning to give the Orioles a bit of life with Machado and Reynolds on first and second, but Chris Davis flies out to end the threat.

Seventh Inning: New York 2 – Baltimore 2

Patton remains in the game to pitch to Martin, who draws a walk. He then proceeds to walk the ninth hitter Ibanez, bringing up Jeter. And unsurprisingly, Patton is pulled in favor of the great Darren O’Day. In nine previous plate appearances against O’Day, Jeter has seen a steady diet of sinkers. With two strikes, Jeter lays down a sacrifice bunt that advances the runners.

The infield comes in, and Ichiro grounds one to Andino, who fires it home. Wieters grabs the ball on a short hop, tags out Martin, and there are now two away with runners on the corners, still tied 2-2.

O’Day then strikes out A-Rod swinging. Amazing! O’Day came in with runners on first and second, with none out. He collects his three outs and leaves the inning without allowing a run to score. He single-handedly increased his team’s win probability by 23%.

Darren O’Day? More like Darren O’Good Night.

In the bottom part of the inning, Sabathia is finally starting to break a sweat. It takes the big southpaw six pitches to get Ford to ground out and then, nine pitches to strike Andino out on a questionable strike three. There it is below:

While far from perfect, Tony Randazzo’s strike zone has been consistent.

McLouth grounds out to second to end the inning.

Eighth Inning: New York 2 – Baltimore 2

Lefty specialist (as of about a month ago), Brian Matusz enters the game to face the left Cano. He gets him to ground out on three pitches, strikes out the switch-hitting Swisher and then the switch-hitting Teixeira draws a two-out walk. No worries though, Matusz strikes out the lefty Granderson with three pitches.

Guess at which point in 2012 Matusz joined the bullpen:

Hardy leads off with a double down the first base line. Sabathia isn’t looking sharp right now, but his velocity hasn’t been declining:

He’ll be left in to face Adam Jones who has been handled quite well tonight by the Yankees starter, even if his career numbers have been successful. And it’s the right move, as Sabathia strikes him out swinging. Wieters fouls out, and there are now two out. Reynolds hits a weak grounder to Jeter who fires it to first to end the inning. Threat over.

This is all setting up too perfectly for a Taylor Teagarden walk off in the ninth.

Nith Inning: New York 7 – Baltimore 2

Closer Jim Johnson comes into the game in a non-save situation and promptly gives up a solo home run to Russell Martin.

Raul Ibanez follows with a single into right field. With Ibanez in motion, Andino gets drawn to the bag, which allows Jeter to fist one between first and second base to put runners on the corners, again with none out. Ichiro pushes a safety squeeze down the first base line. He gets to first safely and scores the pinch running Eduardo Nunez from third. At least the Orioles will keep their record in one-run games intact.

A-Rod strikes out, but Cano clears the bases with a double down the left field line. And that’s it for Johnson who only retired one of the six batters he faced. Tommy Hunter takes his place. Swisher hits a sacrifice fly that scores Cano from third, and the Yankees have a five run lead. Teixeira ends the top of the inning out of indifference.

It’s like watching a really good movie with a tremendously shitty ending, so I Am Legend.

Sabathia stays in the game, but after getting the first two batters out, he gives up a double to Lew Ford. He gets pulled because no one should give up more than a single hit to Lew Ford, even if there’s only one more out to get in this god forsaken game.

David Robertson comes in to strike out Ryan Flaherty to put all of us out of our misery.