Behind stellar pitching performances and a scintillating clutch double from J.J. Hardy, the Baltimore Orioles defeated the New York Yankees 2-1 in 13 innings on Thursday night to force a deciding Game 5 in their ALDS matchup.
Hardy's hit came off of Yankees reliever David Phelps and ended a streak of six straight scoreless innings in the contest.
Following poor performances throughout the series, Orioles closer Jim Johnson got a form of redemption and closed the door for the Baltimore win.
The Yankees' loss wasted a fantastic performance from starting pitcher Phil Hughes. Though he struggled with the free pass at times, the right-hander went 6.2 strong innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out eight Orioles hitters.
Saunders was also stellar in the final stat-line. The lefty allowed just one earned over 5.2 innings before giving way to a brilliant performance from the Baltimore bullpen.
Nonetheless, both starters certainly can thank their lucky stars that the overall numbers were not worse.
Both the Orioles and Yankees squandered massive opportunities, as Baltimore twice failed to score after putting two runners on with no one out in the first four innings.
After the first four innings were filled with unrealized promise and squandered scoring opportunities, outfielder Nate McLouth rocketed a solo home run to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. That homer continued McLouth's brief but brilliant history against Hughes, with a great stat coming from ESPN's Buster Olney.
Nate McLouth came into this game with the best (albeit brief) history against Hughes -- 4-for-6 -- and he's swinging well tonight again.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 12, 2012
Also throwing his hat in the ring to praise McClouth was Bleacher Report lead writer Zach Rymer, who came through with some solid snark.
Nate McLouth is Gotham's reckoning.— Zachary D. Rymer (@zachrymer) October 12, 2012
Nonetheless, the Yankees rallied back in the sixth inning, set up by double from (who else) Derek Jeter. After two fielder's choices scored the New York captain, Saunders was relieved of his duty and the rally died with the score tied at 1-1.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment of Baltimore's victory came in the bottom of the eighth, when reliever Darren O'Day struck out Alex Rodriguez to ostensibly stifle the Bronx Bombers' momentum.
After the strikeout, ESPN's Darren Rovell had a telling statistic about the Yankees third baseman's playoff struggles.
A-Rod has now struck out in 27.2% of his career postseason at bats.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) October 12, 2012
Following the Rodriguez's critical at-bat, the offensive momentum seemingly died on both sides, as bats went radio silent before Hardy's clutch double in the 13th inning.
Baltimore's win sets up a do-or-die Game 5 at Yankee Stadium on Friday. With both sides using a cavalcade of relievers, whichever team gets the best start will likely walk to its way to the ALCS.
Nevertheless, Thursday night was about the Orioles continuing their magical run through the 2012 season for at least one more game.