BALTIMORE — Baltimore Orioles rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen said through an interpreter Sunday that he did not want to think too much about pitching in the playoffs. The Taiwan native wanted everything to remain as it had been throughout his impressive 12-win first season in the major leagues.
Who could blame him for wanting to avoid the extra pressure? In making his playoff debut in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Monday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he would be squaring off against New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who has more postseason wins (19) than eight big league franchises.
Chen might have wanted to block out the fanfare, but there is no denying it now, not after he hurled 61 / 3 innings of two-run ball, with stellar bullpen support, in a taut 3-2 win that knotted the best-of-five series at a game apiece. The series will shift to Yankee Stadium for games Wednesday, Thursday and perhaps Friday.
Monday’s win marked the Orioles’ 30th victory in 39 one-run games this season, and smiling team owner Peter Angelos congratulated players in the clubhouse afterward.
Chen’s performance came in front of a white-towel-whipping 48,187 spectators who were not yet ready to throw them in after 15 years without playoff baseball in Baltimore, but they might have used them to dry off their seats after the 40-minute rain delay that preceded the game.
Signed by the Orioles in January as a non-drafted free agent, Chen, 26, averted trouble in the first inning and locked in to all but outduel Pettitte. So what if Chen’s postseason experience was limited to four playoff berths with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.
“I like pitching in the postseason in Japan, but here I’m still rookie and it’s my first time and how can I make it with this kind of pressure and the weather,” Chen said after the game. “The experience of playing in Japan and the States, they are totally a different feeling.”
“I’m real proud of Wei-Yin,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “All year long you think of all the challenges that have been with him since Day One of spring training, and I think his teammates have done a great job of making his path easier and making him feel good.”
Strikes transcend language, and Chen threw 77 of his 112 pitches for strikes in facing the Yankees for the fifth time this season. His outing could have unraveled early. New York’s first two batters of the game, Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, fell behind Chen with 0-2 counts but each reached base, Jeter on a single to center and Suzuki on an error by first baseman Mark Reynolds.
Orioles second baseman Robert Andino went to the ground to snag a low line drive off the bat of Alex Rodriguez and flipped to shortstop J.J. Hardy to double off Jeter. Robinson Cano smoked a double to the right field corner, and Suzuki twice avoided the tag at home of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, once before he reached the plate and again when he maneuvered around the catcher and safely touched base for the first run.
Chen got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth but did not give up a second run until the seventh, when Eduardo Nunez led off with a double that fell in front of charging right fielder Chris Davis. Jeter singled on an 0-2 pitch to drive him in to make it 3-2.
One out later when Showalter emerged from the dugout to pull Chen, the lefty kicked at the mound in frustration but tipped his cap on his way off the field.
Baltimore’s bullpen again came through. With one runner on after the Yankees had scored in the seventh, right-hander Darren O’Day struck out Rodriguez for the second out and, after lefty Brian Matusz intentionally walked Cano, Matusz got Nick Swisher to fly out to left field.
After giving up a single to Mark Teixeira to lead off the eighth, Matusz retired the next three hitters, two by strikeout. In the ninth, closer Jim Johnson, who allowed five runs in the ninth of a 7-2 loss in Game 1 on Sunday night, retired Jeter, Suzuki and Rodriguez in order, with a crowd-rousing strikeout of Rodriguez on a sinker to end the game.
“Obviously, when you have an outing like I had the night before, you want the ball right away,” said Johnson, who led the major leagues with 51 saves. “It’s one of those things where you want to redeem yourself right away.”
The Orioles are now 76-0 in games they’ve led after the seventh inning.
Pettitte retired the first eight Baltimore batters, but Chris Davis delivered a two-run single to right-center in the third. The Orioles tacked on a run in the bottom of the sixth when Wieters led off with a double and scored on the next pitch when Reynolds singled past second baseman Cano. That made it 3-1.
Pettitte gave up seven hits in seven-plus innings, with five strikeouts and one walk.
Another Baltimore rookie, right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, will make his postseason debut Wednesday in New York. He won both of his starts there this season. The Orioles went 6-3 at Yankee Stadium, their most wins there since 1976.
“We know it’s a tough task ahead of us, but you like the mathematics of it after tonight,” Showalter said. “At least you’re one step closer.”