The Baltimore Orioles did it again, surprising everyone by beating the Texas Rangers in the one-game Wild Card, and moving on to face the New York Yankees.
Going in to the Rangers game, there weren’t too many numbers in Baltimore’s favor. On the season, Baltimore went 2-5 against the Rangers, losing a few of those games by a hefty margin. During one of those games, Josh Hamilton hit four home runs and drove in eight runs at Camden Yards.
It definitely couldn’t have been good to face them again.
The O’s were starting Joe Saunders, who had been pitching well this season since coming over from a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. One significant point, however, was that Saunders had a 9.38 ERA playing at the Rangers’ stadium in six career starts. That’s definitely not a good
Baltimore was facing off against Yu Darvish, who put together a great 2012, his first in America. For the season, Darvish went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and struck out 221 batters in 191.1 innings. Not only that, Darvish was stellar in his five September starts, going 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA and a ridiculous 0.74 WHIP.
The Orioles were facing off against the highest scoring offense in all of baseball. Texas scored a Major-League-best 808 runs while hitting .273 as a team, good for third best overall behind the Rockies and Angels who hit .274.
Then the Orioles did what they do best: Surprise everyone. Saunders pitched exceptionally well, going 5.2 innings and allowing only one earned run on six hits. Former Ranger Darren O’Day threw two great innings in relief, allowing only one hit before leaving in favor of Brian Matusz, who was tasked to face the ever dangerous Hamilton.
What transpired next was one of the best three-pitch sequences I have ever seen.
Matusz was brought in because it gave a good lefty-on lefty-matchup against Hamilton. But Josh Hamilton is Josh Hamilton, all .285 of him with 43 home runs and 128 RBI. Now, Matusz doesn’t really throw that hard, topping out usually around 92 MPH, so he won’t blow a fastball by you, and it was apparent to me that Hamilton was expecting curveballs for the entire at-bat.
Sadly for him, he never got one.
Matusz started him off with a fastball for a strike, and then gave him another. Now with the count 0-2, you could probably bet the house that a curveball was coming, an attempt to get Hamilton to chase and strike out.
Matusz threw another fastball. Hamilton was late on his swing, obviously guessing curve, and struck out to end the eighth inning. Matt Wieters could not have called that at-bat any better, and Matusz made the pitches when it counted.
The O’s went on to win 5-1 and now face the Yankees in the ALDS. No matter what happens in that series, the O’s have certainly surprised everyone, even their own fans (and this writer).
by Andy Mindzak