The Yankees and Orioles have played 22 times, and each team has won 11 times. After the Orioles won 2-1 in Game 4, the first team to reach 12 will advance to the ALCS to meet the Tigers.
The Orioles have been known as a resilient team all year and they proved it again on Thursday night.
After a heartbreaking loss on Wednesday night that put them on the brink of elimination and shattered their extra inning mojo, the Orioles came up with a 2-1, 13-inning win to force a decisive Game Five on Friday. They got the winning run when J.J. Hardy doubled home Manny Machado, but they got the win because the incredible disappearing act of the Yankee bats happened once again.
Phil Hughes gave the team a fourth straight outstanding start, the bullpen was lights out again and the bats just failed to hold up their end of the bargain. It was a parade of hideous at-bats -- the Orioles weren't much better so don't look for this one popping up on ESPN Classic anytime soon -- by players who are much better than what theyve done in the last four games.
And they just kept getting chances. Rafael Soriano snuffed out a potential rally in the top of the ninth by picking off pinch runner Lew Ford, a huge move given both the moment and the sheer unlikelihood of a right-hander picking off a player in the ninth inning of a tie game with no business stealing.
Soriano's nifty move aside, though, it has really been about the pitching in this series for the Yankees. They allowed nine runs in four games covering 42 innings, a remarkable amount of success in any moment but a staggering one given the weight of just about every pitch in three games that were decided by a run and a fourth that was tied heading into the top of the ninth before the Yankees blew it open.
For 13 innings tonight, the Yankee pitchers held the Orioles to just two runs and the Yankees offense couldn't even muster that many. It was a ghastly performance up and down the lineup with no hits with runners in scoring posiiton in all night, and very few loud outs that would at least signal the team had a clue what they are doing.
Give Joe Saunders, Darren O'Day (2.2 innings of scoreless relief) and the rest of the Orioles bullpen the same credit we gave to the Yankee pitchers up top, but you didn't come to NBCNewYork.com to read about the Orioles pitchers. You're here for the Yankees and you're wondering how in the world this team score 804 in a season that was only 162 games long?
If we had an answer, we'd be holding up a boom box outside Joe Girardi's bedroom window right now so that he would listen to our pleas. The only real thought, though, is how in the world Curtis Granderson keeps getting to look helpless at the plate when the team has other choices to play in the outfield.
Alex Rodriguez was due up with two out in the 13th against Jim Johnson -- which makes sense, because he would wind up being due up in that spot if he was in Mozambique -- and he was replaced by Eric Chavez. Granderson played the whole night, though, and Raul Ibanez got just one at-bat.
Beyond that, though, we've got nothing. The only other known instance of elite professional athletes totally losing their abilities all at once was in Space Jam and, as you're probably aware, that wasn't a documentary.
The Yankees can keep pitching as well as they have all series. It won't mean a thing if they keep hitting like this.