Orioles closer Jim Johnson blew his second game of the ALDS in game three.
But if there is a haymaker in their clubhouse this is that moment for the Orioles.
The Orioles were close to a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series on the arm of the best closer in the American League. However, the clock struck midnight twice thanks to Raul Ibanez, and now the dream season appears destined to end in a Bronx nightmare.
Baltimore can’t find a way to get past the New York Yankees. Despite keeping the pressure on an aging team with injuries and underperforming stars, the Orioles can’t get over the hump. For 10 days in September they were tied with the Yankees in the AL East race, but New York never gave up the lead.
Then, with a chance to seize command of this series, Baltimore saw it slip away again with two swings of the bat. With the exception of using Jim Johnson in a non-save situation in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Buck Showalter has pushed all the right buttons this year.
With incredible pitching and offense from unexpected sources, the Orioles had taken the pressure off their manager and were within two outs of taking a 2-1 series lead.
That was until Jim Johnson—who had been flawless nearly all season—blew his second save in three chances, sending them into extra innings.
It was the first time all season that Johnson had given up a home run off any member of the Yankees' postseason roster. In what has to be seen as one of the great pinch-hit moves in their history, Ibanez became to the Orioles what Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone is to Red Sox fans of different eras.
Baltimore’s team of castoffs, reclamation projects and farmhands has been winning with smoke and mirrors all season. They had all the answers over the course of 162 games, but the strength of the Yankees has made all the difference.
Game 4 encapsulated what separates the two franchises.
The Orioles got a stellar performance from Miguel Gonzalez, who began the season in Triple-A. He held Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson hitless. Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado—rookies getting their first taste of postseason—hit solo homers that seemed to be enough for a series-changing win.
While Showalter had to play the percentages—which seemed to be on his side—Joe Girardi played his hunch. Ibanez—a quality bat with postseason experience—took Johnson and Brian Matusz deep in back-to-back plate appearances, reviving the memories of those three swings by Reggie Jackson in October 1977.
It defies all logic to pinch-hit for a $25 million MVP, but that’s what happens in the Bronx in October, where legends are made and hearts are broken.
Much has been made about Baltimore’s resilience, but New York’s adversity has been just as real this season. The Orioles are on a postseason learning curve, while winning championships is part of the Yankees' DNA.
These birds will not go quietly in Game 4, but when a team has played October baseball 17 of the last 18 years against a club that hasn’t played a postseason game in 15 years, experience is massive.
It's also good for ending a 16-game extra-inning win streak, and beating a contender who was the best in baseball at winning one-run games and pushing them to the brink of elimination.