Orioles at Yankees
Series: ALDS Game 2; Series tied 1-1
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Starters: Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32 ERA)
The cliché about opening a playoff series with two games on the road is that the road team is in good shape if it can head back home with a split. That’s exactly what the Yankees have done in this series, heading home for the final three (if necessary) games with the series knotted 1-1. Yet, they don’t seem particularly pleased. Perhaps that’s because this series has now become a best-two-out-of-three set in the Bronx, and the Orioles have won all three such series between the two teams this season, taking two of three at Yankee Stadium at the beginning of May, the end of July and the beginning of September to go 6-3 in the Bronx this season.
The last of those three series opened on Aug. 31 with the same pitching matchup as Wednesday’s Game 3, pitting 37-year-old veteran Hiroki Kuroda, who finished eighth in the AL in ERA and fifth among AL pitchers in Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, against 28-year-old minor league journeyman Miguel Gonzalez. Gonzalez threw seven scoreless innings in that game, allowing just four singles and a walk while striking out nine. Kuroda threw 8 1/3 innings, but gave up three early runs, two of them on a Mark Reynolds home run, followed by a solo homer by J.J. Hardy later in the game. The Orioles won 6-1.
Gonzalez, who passed through the Angels’ and Red Sox’ systems before signing a minor league deal with the Orioles in March, made his major league debut at the end of May and joined the Baltimore rotation in early July. A fly-ball pitcher with a low strikeout rate, Gonzalez suffered from some gopheritis in July but has allowed just four home runs in 10 starts since the calendar flipped to August, going 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA over that span. Kuroda posted a 4.63 ERA over his final seven starts dating back to his confrontation with Gonzalez.
Both can point to luck on balls in play for the variations in their performance (over his last 10 starts, Gonzalez’s BABIP has been .251; over those last seven, Kuroda’s has been .336). Both can also point to success against their Wednesday opponent. Kuroda allowed just one run in seven innings in his only other start against Baltimore this year, which came at the end of April. That’s five runs in 15 1/3 total innings, a 2.93 ERA. Gonzalez gave up three home runs to the Yankees (specifically to lefties Raul Ibañez, Eric Chavez and Ichrio Suzuki) in his only other start against them this season, but that came in his homer-happy July, and in his two starts against New York, both of which came at the new Yankee Stadium, he struck out 17 while walking just one in 13 2/3 innings.
Another plus for both pitchers is that there just hasn’t been a lot of or hitting in this series thus far. The Yankees won Game 1 by pounding Orioles closer Jim Johnson for five runs, but that was fluky, as Johnson’s perfect ninth inning the next night illustrated. Take out their six at-bats against Johnson in Game 1, and the Yankees are hitting .219/.311/.266. Meanwhile, the Orioles are hitting .227/.250/.273 and have scored as many runs in two games (five) as the Yankees did in the course of seven at-bats in the ninth inning of Game 1.
A low-scoring series favors the Orioles, whose modus operandi all season has been to suppress scoring and eke out narrow victories like their 3-2 win in Game 2. This is a familiar pattern for the Yankees, as well. In last year’s ALDS against the Tigers, the Yankees scored 19 runs in their two wins, but just nine runs in their three losses. In the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers, they scored 13 runs in their two wins, but just six runs in their four losses. If the Yankee bats can’t find their groove, the Orioles might just pull of yet another upset. -- By Cliff Corcoran