Jim Johnson earned some redemption on Monday night, and now the Orioles need just two wins to advance to the ALCS.
The trick for the team starting on the road in the Division Series is to at least earn a split in the first two games of the series. If a team can do that, its players can hold their heads high on the plane ride home.
So says conventional wisdom, anyway. If true, the New York Yankees' trip home to the Bronx from Baltimore should be a content affair. Not a joyous affair or a rowdy affair (they are the Yankees, after all), but certainly a content affair.
Yes, the Yankees will be happy with the fact that they split the first two games of their ALDS matchup against the Orioles, even if they are heading home fresh off a 3-2 loss in Game 2. They would have preferred a sweep of the two road tilts, but a split will do.
Eventually, the Yankees will start getting pumped up for what they hope will only be two games back in the comfort of Yankee Stadium. Worse comes to worst, they'll need three home games to seal the deal.
They'll probably come out on top in the end either way of course, as surely the Orioles won't be able to steal two games from the Yankees at a venue where they went 51-30 this season, the best home record in all of baseball.
Um, no. Not quite.
The Orioles may not have the lead in this ALDS, but what they do have is all the momentum. They proved a couple points they needed to prove.
The O's proved through the first eight innings in Game 1 that they can hang with the big, bad Yankees. Had it not been for an uncharacteristically rough outing by Jim Johnson, they could have easily beaten said big, bad Yankees.
On Monday night, the Orioles got their victory. Just as important is that they got exactly the kind of victory they specialized in during the regular season. Wei-Yin Chen gave them 6.1 solid innings, and from there on it was the bullpen show. Darren O'Day and Brian Matusz handled the seventh and the eighth, and Johnson redeemed himself by pitching a perfect ninth to pick up the save. His final pitch of the night was a third strike that Alex Rodriguez swung right through.
In the end, it was just another one-run win, Baltimore's 30th this year if you count what happened in the regular season.
The Orioles can breathe a little easier now, for they proved in Game 2 that the formula they used for winning tight games during the regular season can work in the postseason as well. After what happened to them in Game 1, there was very much a question of whether their whole tightrope act would play in October.
It turns out that it plays just fine, and you can rest assured we'll see them perform it again before this series is over.
Sure, the O's are walking into a hostile environment, but Yankee Stadium isn't as hostile for these Orioles as you may think. In fact, remove all the raucous Yankees fans, and Yankee Stadium becomes like a home away from home for Buck Showalter's club.
Want to know how many series the Orioles lost in the Bronx this year?
Try none. Zip. Zero. Nada. Other synonyms for none.
The Orioles visited the Yankees three times this season, and they took two out of three in each. They actually played the Yanks better at Yankee Stadium than they played them at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The Orioles were able to get the better of the Yankees in their own backyard not because they dominated the Bombers in a single phase of the game each time, but really in all phases of the game. All the key ones, anyway.
Baltimore's pitchers enjoyed their time at Yankee Stadium during the regular season, posting a solid 3.46 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. They managed to hold Yankees hitters to a .228/.288/.367 triple-slash line, which is impressive considering the fact that the Yankees hit .266/.338/.469 as a team at home this season.
Baltimore's hitters had even more fun in Yankee Stadium, posting a .304/.360/.497 triple-slash line with 14 home runs. Those were the most homers they hit at any away venue this season.
Mark Reynolds and Matt Wieters, in particular, very much enjoyed hitting at Yankee Stadium. Of the seven homers Reynolds hit against the Yankees during the regular season, four were hit at Yankee Stadium. Wieters hit .364 in New York this season with a pair of home runs.
It's not like we're talking about ancient history here, either. One of the series victories the Orioles earned at Yankee Stadium this season happened way back in late April and early May, but the other two came in late July and late August.
Maybe you're sitting there thinking that Yankee Stadium will be a safe haven for the Bombers because, let's face it, this is October and they're the Yankees. Nobody beats them at Yankee Stadium when the calendar reads October.
Tell that to the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers. Dating back to the 2010 ALCS, the Yankees have won just two of their last six postseason home games. What mattered in both the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers and the 2011 ALDS against the Tigers is that the Yankees were going up against the better team. Or at the very least, just as good a team.
The Orioles are also, at the very least, just as good as the Yankees. The two clubs played 18 times in the regular season and now twice in the postseason. To date, the season series is split right down the middle, with 10 wins apiece for each side.
Beating the Orioles in this ALDS never was going to be easy for the Yanks. New York rattled the O's by getting to Johnson in the ninth inning in Game 1, but the Orioles came back in Game 2 and rattled the Yankees right back. In the span of 24 hours, the Orioles went from looking like fish out of water to looking exactly like the Orioles team that was tough on everyone it played in the final two-plus months of the regular season, including the Yankees.
And now the Orioles are headed to a place where they know they enjoyed plenty of success during the regular season.
This doesn't necessarily mean they now have the advantage in this series, but their track record at Yankee Stadium is at least good enough to wipe out whatever home-field advantage the Bombers would have had against any other team besides the Orioles.
Or, if you prefer the short version of all this in plain English: What we have here, my friends, is a series. A darn good one from the looks of it.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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