I don’t know about you, but I am still in utter shock over what transpired last night when the New York Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 on a walk-off home run by Raul Ibanez. Coming from behind for a victory is one thing, but when it is done virtually by one man with two homers of his own is another.
If there is ever a time to take advantage of whatever momentum really means in a baseball series, this is it. The Yankees will have 16-game winner Phil Hughes on the mound in the most important start of his career. No it is not a do or die game for the Yankees, the Orioles’ Joe Saunders has than problem, but the Yankees do not want to be put into that kind of pressure cooker should they lose tonight.
Let the other teams throw their best guys to finish off the ALDS. The Yankees would be in mint condition if Hughes can resemble the efforts of CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda during the first three games of the series; they have a combined 2.65 ERA in 24 innings. Yes, the starters are averaging 8 innings per start. That’s amazing in and of itself.
Does Hughes have it in him to continue the trend? In 148 plate appearances against the current Orioles roster Hughes has a triple slash against him of .237/.277/.446. In 2012, he is .284/.320/.484 against them in 100 plate appearances. His record versus the O’s in 2012 is 2-2 with a 4.76 ERA. At Yankee Stadium against the Birds this year he is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA. So, it seems that he has his work cut out for him. As a whole Hughes’ work at Yankee Stadium has been much better than on the road; 11-4, 3.74 ERA at home, versus 5-9, 4.76 ERA. Mark Reynolds gave Hughes the most problems this season with two home runs and four RBI.
The Orioles are once again using the lefty Saunders to stave off elimination. He was the wild card play-in starter back on Friday and he tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball to help eliminate the defending AL Champion Texas Rangers. In 246 plate appearances, the Yankees have a very nice slash of .314/.377/.532 against Saunders. That said a majority of those numbers are from 2009 and back . In one start against the Yankees this season Saunders allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings pitched recording the win. He’s been with the Orioles for just a short period of time but has definitely gotten Buck Showalter’s respect.
Other keys to this game are numerous. Will Yankees manager Joe Girardi tinker with his lineup? Alex Rodriguez could be dropped in the order, but he is 8-for-20 with 2 home runs against Saunders so maybe there is something Girardi likes with the matchup and he leaves it alone. Will last night’s hero, Ibanez get a start at DH even though he is a left-handed hitter? He is 8-for-23 against Saunders with 2 homers. Can Derek Jeter, who fouled a ball off his left foot last night and was ultimately removed from the game make the start at shortstop so there is a spot at DH for Ibanez? Or does Girardi leave Ibanez on the bench in case he needs the big pinch-hit again tonight?
There are the issues with Robinson Cano (.167) Nick Swisher (.200) and Curtis Granderson (.091) at the plate which could prompt Girardi to completely overhaul the lineup in an effort to get someone hot. An area which could play a major factor in tonight’s game is the Yankees bullpen. Is David Robertson available after two innings last night? Besides DRob, Boone Logan (.1 IP) and Rafael Soriano (1.1 IP) are the only relievers who have seen action during the series. If Girardi needs someone to bail out Hughes, who will he turn to in order to keep the game close? Derek Lowe or David Phelps? Can the late inning relievers continue to shut down the Orioles should the Yankee have a lead?
One thing is for certain, this will be a tight game. The Yankees record in the season series including the playoffs is 11-10 and the Yankees have scored a grand total of three more runs (102-99) than the Orioles during the 21 games. Expect more fireworks tonight in one way shape or form; let’s hope the Yankees are on the right side of them again!