Much like the two teams' battle for the AL East crown in the regular season, it seems like the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees will make fans sweat out every last pitch of their ALDS matchup.
With the series tied at 1-1 after two hard-fought games that came down to the ninth inning, the winner of Game 3 on Wednesday night will likely take the series.
That means each pitch and at-bat we see in the contest will be magnified exponentially. No longer are errors understandable or will missed spots with pitches go unpunished. That means the performance of certain players will be even more important to each side's cause than ever before.
With that in mind, here's a look at the most pivotal players as we head into Wednesday's critical Game 3.
SP Miguel Gonzalez
A shining star in the second half of the season for Baltimore, Gonzalez will start his first playoff game in his team's most important contest of the season.
The right-hander came into 2012 completely unheralded, having bounced around the minor leagues and battled injuries since signing with the Texas Rangers in 2005. After making his first start in July, Gonzalez emerged at a critical time for the Orioles, going 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.21 WHIP this season.
If the regular season is any indication of how he'll perform against New York on Wednesday, the 28-year-old could shine in the bright spotlight. Starting two games against the Yankees in 2012, Gonzalez went 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA, striking out 17 batters over 13.2 innings. More importantly, both of Gonzalez's starts against New York came at Yankee Stadium.
For the Orioles to have any chance at taking a 2-1 victory, it's necessary that Gonzalez continues his brilliance in the Bronx.
DH Chris Davis
Davis has always been a hot-and-cold type player, and his latest scintillating streak has coincided with Baltimore's playoff run and its tying up of the series.
As the only regular fixture in the Orioles lineup hitting above the .250 mark this postseason, the 26-year-old slugger's .500 average and two RBI have been vital to his team's cause in the series.
Look for that trend to continue in Game 3 when the Yankees send Hiroki Kuroda to the mound.
Davis has a career .333 batting average against the right-hander, but has faced him just six times—three of which have been strikeouts.
That boom-or-bust mentality is always in the works with Davis at the plate and whichever result happens Wednesday could determine the outcome.
New York Yankees
SP Hiroki Kuroda
Speaking of inconsistent performers, the Yankees will need Kuroda to provide a steady hand against Baltimore.
For his career, 37-year-old Kuroda has a 5.27 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in three playoff starts (all with the Los Angeles Dodgers), but nearly all of those deficiencies can be tied to one bad performance. In 2008, he compiled a 2-0 record with a 1.46 ERA and looked absolutely brilliant in both starts.
That level of greatness is certainly possible on Wednesday.
In two starts against the Orioles this season, Kuroda performed well, going 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA in his first season in the AL East.
Nevertheless, the Baltimore lineup got to the Yankees starter a little bit the last time the two sides faced off, as Kuroda allowed four earned runs over 8.1 innings as the Orioles took home a 6-1 victory.
SS Derek Jeter
As is the case in nearly every pivotal postseason game throughout his 17-year career, the Yankees will rely on their captain to come through in the clutch.
By now, we all know that's a pretty good bet.
Always a postseason marvel, Derek Jeter has hit .444 thus far against Baltimore, and along with Mark Teixeira, has been one of the on-base stalwarts of the New York offense.
Against Gonzalez this season, the Yankees shortstop has hit .333, but those hits were rather insignificant ones. That will change on Wednesday as each New York base runner could be the difference between a victory and a crippling 2-1 series deficit.
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