It was a tremendous, fun, occasionally infuriating, thrilling season for the Baltimore Orioles and their long-suffering fan base, but unfortunately it had to come to an end tonight, as they ran into the New York Yankees and CC Sabathia, who, not to be outdone by Justin Verlander last night, went the distance, despite a shaky eighth inning, to close out a series that could equally be described by all the adjectives above with a 3-1 win.

True to the established form of the series, we had a tight pitching battle early on in this decisive Game Five, but the series turned on its ear in the bottom of the fifth, when Mark Teixeira (of all people) singled, then stole second (!!!?!??!), scoring the game’s first run when Raul Ibanez– playing this game only because Alex Rodriguez, DNP -Coach’s Decision, has looked so awful of late– singled to centre.

No, really. Teixeira (of all people) stole an absolutely key base– something he did only twice this season, and has done only 21 times in his 1497 career games.

Baltimore nearly jumped right back in it in the top of the next frame, as Nate McLouth crushed a ball down the right field line that was determined– after a review– to have been just barely, achingly foul. The call wasn’t without controversy, however, as TBS later sent Craig Sager to the area where McLouth’s shot landed, where the flamboyantly-attired reporter said he spoke to an usher who said he thought the ball had nicked the foul pole– and thus should have been called fair.

Borrowing the ball from one of the Rogans and/or Turtles and/or Swishers who caught it, Sager found no indication of yellow paint, which would have proved rather conclusively that the run should have counted.

(Via Big League Stew).

Would it have altered the outcome fundamentally had McLouth’s home run been allowed to stand? Obviously it’s impossible to say. But McLouth struck out swinging to end the inning, the Yankees held their lead, added to it when Ichiro doubled in a Derek Jeter walk, barely missing his own home run in the process, then made it 3-0 when Curtis Granderson finally woke up and realized the regular season was over and this was the damn playoffs, crushing a ball to right off Troy Patton, who had replaced a reasonably effective Jason Hammel in the sixth.

This all set the stage for…

The Most Important Play of the Game, The Awful Thing The Manager Did(n’t Do), and The Win Expectancy Graph

Matt Wieters singled to start the eighth, and Manny Machado walked, setting up what was easily the best threat of the game for Baltimore, off a Sabathia whose command appeared to be slipping– though not enough to get Mark Reynolds out on strikes for the first out of the game, even though it was hardly easy, and Sabathia’s fastball hardly crisp. Lew Ford knocked a “Pasta Diving Jeter” single to bring Wieters home, and the next batter, Robert Andino, bounced one softly back to the pitcher. Sabathia grabbed the ball, looked initially to throw to third base, but found that Eric Chavez had come off the bag to charge the ball off Andino’s bat. The pitcher whirled to get the force at second, but he was too late. All hands were safe, meaning the bases were loaded with one out in the eighth inning, with the score now 3-1 and the red hot McLouth at the plate.

It was not a happy time to be a Yankees fan, or presumably Joe Girardi, who could have gone to a very strong– if well-used– Yankee bullpen, or gutted it out with his ace, who was just now showing the first signs of potentially wavering, in a jam in the middle of the eighth.

While I’m normally one to eschew narrative-bound concepts like this, it was with his hefty pair of big brass binders that Girardi decided to stay with the one he brought. And Sabathia delivered, season on the line, making McLouth look foolish with sliders, then getting Hardy to weakly ground out to short, red-lining the leverage index on the chart below in the process. Big time.


Source: FanGraphs

The Shamsky Award

Named after Art Shamsky, who single handedly increased the Cincinnati Reds’ chances of winning by 150.3% in a losing effort during a game in 1966, The Shamsky Award is given to the player on the losing team who contributes the most to them winning.

By WPA the Baltimore Oriole who contributed the most to his team’s cause today was Robert Andino, but only in the most technical sense of the word. Andino gets credit for his all-hands-safe “single” to load the bases in the eighth, which he barely had anything to do with. So the next name on the chart is Matt Wieters, who walked, scored his club’s only run, and picked up one of the mere four hits– Andino’s included– that Sabathia allowed in this biggest of big games.

Could have been McLouth, if not for the tiniest of margins on his crucial foul.

Three Stars

1. CC Sabathia: See: the Most Important Play of the Game, above. Also: 9,0 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 9 K.

2. Joe Girardi: As a neutral, perhaps I’m failing to comprehend the faith that Yankees fans may have in their ace, but it seemed to me it would have been absolutely terrifying, there in the eighth, with Sabathia just starting to maybe show a couple of cracks, to see my manager keep him in there and not yank him for one of his many quality relief options before the damage got out of hand. Shows what I know. Also: Girardi went with Ibanez over Rodriguez, and thanks to the inexplicable Teixeira stolen base, it absolutely worked, as Nosferatu cashed one to break open the scoring.

3. Mark Teixeira: Seriously. A stolen base.

Honourable Mention: The entire Orioles organization, from the front office to the coaching staff, to the players, to everyone in between, needs to be commended for having an absolutely terrific season, idiot-empowering as it was at times, and for enduring the unceasing snark of those of who couldn’t for the life of us figure it all out. Whatever happened, how it happened, why it happened, you can’t take away that they did it. A tremendous year for a club and a fan base that sure deserved to revel in it.