Casual baseball fans tuning in to the major league playoffs and just now learning about the Baltimore Orioles might be wondering how a team of relative no-names can not only crack the postseason field against staggering preseason odds but hang with the New York Yankees once they get there.
Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are names fans have heard for years, often in a playoff context, and these are guys recognizable by last names alone.
In the other dugout is an Orioles team, with players whose full names do not resonate far across state lines, battling New York to the last day of the regular season in the American League East and now tied at one game apiece in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
There’s an obvious reason for the anonymity. This is Baltimore’s first postseason appearance since 1997. The Yankees have qualified in 17 of the last 18 years.
“The last time [we] were in the playoffs, you look at the Orioles lineup and you’ve got Cal [Ripken Jr.], Roberto Alomar, [Rafael] Palmeiro,” Baltimore all-star center fielder Adam Jones said after his team’s 3-2 series-tying win Monday night. “Way more stars. Hey, this lineup here is a lineup that is a bunch of guys that are angry, want to play, want to win and ain’t taking no for an answer.”
With the series now shifting to Yankee Stadium for games Wednesday and Thursday and perhaps Friday, the Orioles have to leave their boisterous fans, who turned out in season-high numbers Sunday (a 7-2 loss) and Monday.
Leaving town might not be all that significant. The Orioles beat New York in six of nine games at Yankee Stadium this season, their most wins there since 1976. That stat, too, might come as news to fans across the country looking for a scruffy underdog to adopt this postseason.
“To be able to be that successful in Yankee Stadium is huge for the confidence of this team,” Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said. “Like I’ve said all year, we don’t have superstars, we have baseball players. We’ve got a room full of them. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and not let the situation overwhelm us.”
“I don’t think it makes it any different that it’s New York, or whether it’s Chicago or another city,” said Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who took the loss in Game 1 and picked up the save in Game 2 by retiring Jeter, Suzuki and Rodriguez in order.
Orioles rookie right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA), the team’s Game 3 starter, has won twice at Yankee Stadium this season, giving up four earned runs over 132 / 3 innings. Gonzalez is the first Orioles rookie pitcher in 45 years to win at Yankee Stadium twice in the same season.
Gonzalez will oppose right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32). Baltimore and New York have split their 20 games this season, and the Orioles are 30-9 in one-run games.
“If people haven’t noticed and are starting to, then we’re doing our job,” Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “That’s what we want to do.”