October 12, 2012
ALDS Game Four Recap: Orioles 2, Yankees 1
For the second straight night, the Yankees and Orioles went to extra innings after pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez extended the game with one swing. This time, though, that swing produced a grounder to first, preserving a tie instead of erasing a lead. And this time, the Orioles got back to Baltimore basics and added another one-run victory to their tally, running their extra-innings record to 17-3.
For the second straight elimination-game outing, Joe Saunders went 5 2/3 innings and gave up one run, which would be a neat trick if he could keep doing it. Phil Hughes allowed leadoff walks in three of his first four innings (and a leadoff homer to Nate McLouth in the fifth), but made it through 6 2/3 mostly unscathed, striking out eight. After the starters were done, the game became pitching-change porn, as each manager sought every available situational edge. The Yankees used every member of their bullpen, and the Orioles used every member of theirs save for Chris Tillman, who has yet to make a major-league relief appearance. Between them, the two teams totaled 16 pitchers, an almost unprecedented number for such a low-scoring game. Normally, when that many pitchers are used, it’s a sign that some of them pitched poorly; the only regular-season game since 1950 (and almost certainly ever, given the relative scarcity of relievers in the first half of the century) in which this many pitchers allowed this few runs was in 2010, and that one took 20 innings. Girardi and Showalter weren’t messing around, and until David Phelps faltered in his second inning of work, their pitchers weren’t either. It’s a shame the game didn’t last a little longer—a few more innings, and we might’ve seen Nick Swisher and Chris Davis reprise their roles as relievers.
All told, it took 43 innings for the Yankees and Orioles to complete the first four games of their division series. Only two of those innings ended with one team more than one run ahead of the other: the ninth inning of Game One, when the Yankees scored five runs to put the Orioles away, and the sixth inning of Game Two, when a Mark Reynolds RBI single briefly gave the O’s some breathing room. That means that almost every pitch in this series has been thrown with the knowledge that it could lead to a lead change, especially in light of the fact that these two teams (usually) hit so many home runs. If you can’t relax with Ryan Flaherty at the plate, you can’t really relax at all. That kind of constant pressure isn’t easy on players, and it isn’t easy on fans, but if you like your postseason series low-scoring and filled with good pitching performances, there’s been a lot to like about this one.
All those even innings probably wouldn’t have been possible with a few more clutch hits, but clutch hits have been hard to come by. The Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in Game Four and are 6-for-28 in the series. The Orioles went 1-for-11 w/RISP in Game Four and are 6-for-31 on the series. Girardi credited good pitching. J.J. Hardy suggested that some hitters might be pressing, in which case things could get worse in the most pressure-packed game of the series, but Hardy might be making too much of a small sample. Or maybe not!
The Yankees have hit .214 with runners in scoring position in this series. That’s bad, but it’s also about three hits away from excellent. They hit .176 w/RISP for the entire month of May, then rebounded to raise that mark to .283 in the second half. Whether the current lack of clutch hits is a product of great pitching, pressing, or inopportune timing, there isn’t much either manager can do but keep calm, carry on, and hope for high-leverage hits.
The Yankees and Orioles have split their 22 matchups this season, so the game that decides their division series will also decide their season series. Whatever the outcome of Game Five (which PECOTA sees going New York's way), it will be easy to imagine this series having gone a lot differently. We could say the same about the Orioles' season.