Yankees vs. Orioles: Team Grades from ALDS Game 4
After watching a number of exciting baseball games Thursday, the baseball world set its sights on the Big Apple, as the New York Yankees played host to the Baltimore Orioles in what they hoped would be a series-clinching victory.
Entering the evening, it was expected that the Yankees offense could be enough, though the Baltimore pitching staff led by Joe Saunders would not go down without a fight.
In the end, the final score is all that matters, and the clutch hitting from youngster Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy would prove to be the difference, as their efforts in the 13th inning sent the series to a decisive Game 5.
The slate will be wiped clean tomorrow when both teams take to the diamond, but for now, here are some contributing factors to Game 4's 2-1 final.
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Both pitchers came out with plenty on the line Thursday night, and Joe Saunders held his own early on against Phil Hughes. Holding the Yankees to three hits in 5.2 innings is everything the Orioles could have asked for and more.
Hughes was just as good early on, allowing only four hits during his 6.2 innings of work, and while he would walk three batters, there wasn't much damage to be had as he allowed only one earned run.
Much like with Saunders' last start, analysts noted early on that he would likely have a short leash. To his credit, he stifled the threats and overcame three walks while keeping the Yankees in check before being pulled in favor of Tommy Hunter with two outs in the sixth inning.
With strong pitching early on, both teams struggled to get going on offense. Both teams had their chances with runners on base during the game; each starter gave up at least three walks, though neither team capitalized in a way that could've put up a crooked number.
The Yankees' biggest threat came in the eighth inning when a single from Ichiro followed by Mark Teixiera's hit gave New York two runners on with nobody out.
They wouldn't capitalize on that opportunity, as Oriole relief would come in and send the game to the ninth still even at 1-1.
Both offenses would continue to struggle as the game entered extra innings, as the bullpens on both sides flexed their muscle, keeping some of the game's best hitters guessing.
The Orioles finally broke through in the 13th inning, as a hit from Manny Machado would pave the way for J.J. Hardy to drive in the go-ahead run with a one-out double over the head of Ichiro Suzuki.
New York sent up the heart of its lineup in the bottom half of the 13th, but they went down in order and couldn't seal the deal, ensuring Game 5 on Friday afternoon in the Bronx.
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For all the strength that the pitchers showed in the early innings, both sides had fielders to thank for keeping the runs to a minimum.
Keeping errors to a minimum is a key in any game, but mistakes are amplified in postseason action, making solid fielding all that much more crucial to a team's success.
The Orioles had the only error in the game's box score, and while it didn't yield any runs scored, the biggest defensive play of the evening may have been Rafael Soriano's pickoff of Lew Ford in the ninth inning, stifling a threat to throw a wrench in the scoreboard.
The Orioles bullpen was called into action early on, but it was in a crucial eighth inning that it showed signs of its brilliance in tough situations.
With two runners in scoring position and only one out in the inning, submariner Darren O'Day flexed his muscle as he struck out Alex Rodriguez and induced a harmless fly ball from Nick Swisher, stifling the potential game-changing threat.
The Yankees pen was every bit as good in relief of Phil Hughes into the late innings, as Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano combined to allow just one hit in 2.1 innings, giving their offense an opportunity to turn the tide in extra innings.
As the game entered the 10th frame, the bullpens from both sides continued to dominate, with Pedro Strop pitching a scoreless 11th inning and David Phelps doing the same in the top half of the 12th to keep the marathon going.
Phelps' fatal flaw would come in the 13th, as hits allowed to Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy would prove to be all the offense that Baltimore would need.
Jim Johnson came into a pressure situation in the bottom half of the inning with the series hanging in the balance, to which he would respond by sending down the heart of the Yankee lineup and allowing his team to live another day.
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In the end, heroic pitching efforts from both sides would prove to be the theme of this 13-inning marathon.
Joe Saunders surprised many with his 5.2-inning, three-hit effort, and the bullpen more than held up its end of the bargain, allowing only four hits in 7.1 innings.
For the Yankees, the lack of offense and ultimate crack by the bullpen ultimately put the momentum back in the hands of the Orioles.
If there's a silver lining in New York, it's that they have the luxury of sending one of the most dominating pitchers in the game to the mound in CC Sabathia.
Baltimore will send Jason Hammel to the mound in an effort to continue this turnaround season that has seen so many clutch performances turn into outstanding wins.