Standing in the press box at Yankee Stadium Thursday night in the 8th inning, I just knew the series was over. Two men on, nobody out in a tie game where the Orioles couldn’t buy a hit didn’t seem much like a recipe for success.
I was thinking how disappointing it was for fans to have come so close, to know the O’s should have won game three and again missed opportunities in game four. Truth be told, some of the disappointment was my own. I’ve made no secret of growing up an Orioles fan and how that forged my path in this business. So, I’m thinking, “Here they go again. The Birds just are not quite ready to handle the Bronx on the biggest stage.”
I was also contemplating the emotional investment Orioles fans have made in this team and how much harder it is when you give yourself over to a cause, dying inside hoping for its success. Coming off an AFC title game gut punch for Baltimore (not even close in relative terms ALDS vs. missed trip to Super Bowl, but emotionally, not much different), to have to suffer through back-to-back heartbreakers against the Yankees just seemed an awful lot for this fan base to bear.
And then Brian Matusz, one day after giving up the game-winning HR, got a ground ball out. Enter Darren O’Day. Already overused, the side-armed righty, whom, according to Jim Johnson, tosses softballs, got out of it. He baffled the best of the Yankees lineup to escape, then did it for two more innings. Next up, Pedro Strop. He hadn’t pitched since October 3rd, having fallen out of favor. Strop dominated the Yanks for two more innings.
Manny Machado led off the 13th with a double, and two batters later, J.J. Hardy finally represented the Orioles bats with a clutch hit.
At last, Jim Johnson earned redemption for game three, mowing down New York’s 3-4-5 hitters 1-2-3.
They did it.
All day long they had to hear about the Yankee mystique, and how the playoffs here are too big for the Birds. But Baltimore was the one to rise up and stave off elimination, giving its fans who had invested so much one more magical moment in a season full of impossible dreams. It’s why the investment is worth it because the reward of a shared cause success delivers euphoria.
Now, it’s a game five, essentially the same situation they faced a week ago in Arlington, Texas. We knew in that game all the pressure was on the expensive, All-Star riddled lineup of the Rangers. Ultimately though, the pressure proved too much for Texas and the Orioles celebrated in champagne. The pressure tonight relies solely on the Yankees. They expect nothing less than a World Series crown. To lose a game five, at home, to the inexplicable O’s goes way past unacceptable in Gotham. Here’s to one more night of shared investment for Baltimore.