Series: ALDS Game 5, series tied 2-2
Time: 5:00 p.m. EST
It’s true, as I wrote in my Game 4 preview, that the Orioles just can’t get past the Yankees, having now tied them eight times since Sept. 4 without once having led them in the divisional race or this series. It’s equally true that the Yankees just can’t shake the Orioles, a team they initially passed in the standings on June 12 and over whom they held a 10-game lead a little more than a month later. Including this series, the two teams are now 11-11 against one another this year and have been separated by more than a single run in just two of the 43 innings of this series.
The reason for those tight scores has been the difficulty both teams have had scoring at all. Again leaving out the Yankees’ five-run Game 1 outburst against Orioles closer Jim Johnson, which amounted to an entire game’s worth of scoring for both teams in the course of just seven at-bats, the two teams have averaged just 4.25 runs per game combined, with the Yankees scoring a total of eight runs in the other 42 innings of the series, an average of 1.7 runs per nine innings, and the Orioles scoring just nine runs in the series as a whole, or 1.9 runs per nine innings.
One of the percolating story lines in this series has been yet another impotent postseason performance from Alex Rodriguez, who is 2-for-16 (.125) with two walks, no extra-base hits, and nine strikeouts. However, Rodriguez hasn’t even been the Yankees’ worst hitter. Nick Swisher, whose career postseason numbers are far worse than Rodriguez’s, is 2-for-15 (.133) with two walks and no extra-base hits. Curtis Granderson, who was second in the AL in home runs this season, is 1-for-16 (.063) with a single, a walk and nine strikeouts. Most shockingly, Robinson Cano, who finished the regular season with the longest streak of multi-hit games in the last five years, is just 2-for-18 (.111) with a walk, though both of his hits were doubles.
Because Joe Girardi’s hunch to pinch-hit Raul Ibañez for Rodriguez paid off so spectacularly in Game 3, there was been much scuttlebutt about benching Rodriguez even before Girardi elected to do just that. This move unfairly singles out Rodriguez, who did reach base twice in Game 4, while Swisher, Granderson and Cano went a combined 0-for-16 without so much as a walk. The Yankees’ problems run far deeper than Rodriguez. Even with their outburst against Johnson included, they are hitting just .216/.280/.333 as a team, and even that is better than the Orioles’ combined .197/.238/.296 line, which includes a 4-for-36 (.111) performance from four- and five-place hitters Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, who have just one walk and one extra-base hit (a Wieters double) between them.
There are two ways to interpret what those performances mean for the decisive Game 5. The winner will either be the team that manages to break out of their slump, or the team that manages to avoid the costly mistake, as low-scoring, high-pressure, one-run games can easily turn on a poorly-timed fielding error or baserunning mistake (just ask Scott Rolen, who will be watching this one from home rather than his team's clubhouse). -- By Cliff Corcoran