NEW YORK -- Sometimes the games are magical or astounding, like Wednesday night’s Game 3 between the Yankees and Orioles, a jaw-dropper for the winners and losers alike. Other times, they’re just a grind. Thursday’s 13-inning 2-1 Orioles squeaker of a win left everyone exhausted, with even Baltimore seeming more relieved than hyped up by the end of the war of attrition.
“Enjoyable but very freaky stressful,” is how unlikely Orioles playoff ace Joe Saunders described it, and he was among the most energetic.
“It’s tough, I can’t say that I know exactly what they’re going through,” said manager Buck Showalter of his wrung-out players. “You try to put yourself in their shoes, but it’s just a real test mentally and emotionally.”
Another tight extra-innings game, and one in which very few batters had much success. It was a game of wasted opportunities and stranded runners for both teams. If the winner had been decided on the ability of a team to frustrate its own fan base, the Yankees would have squeezed out the victory, but it still would’ve been a close one.
The Orioles’ margin of victory was a Manny Machado double followed by a J.J. Hardy double off David Phelps, on top of an earlier Nate McLouth homer off Phil Hughes, many moons earlier. The Yankees used their entire bullpen to get through the night, including Joba Chamberlain, who left with a contusion on his arm after Matt Weiter’s bat was shattered by his fastball and flung itself at Chamberlain in apparent revenge.
Everyone on both teams has been quick to credit the pitching for all the low scores in this series, but there were plenty of bad at-bats and slumping sluggers to go around as well. Other than the ninth inning of Game 1, when the Yankees blew up Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, neither team has scored more than two runs in an inning, and neither more than one an inning over these last two games.
The Orioles, obviously no strangers to one-run wins and extra-inning games, pulled it off one more time, eking out just enough to keep their crazy unlikely season alive one more day. They talked about how they had been here before, so many long, tight wins, but it’s not quite the same in a playoff elimination game.
“Maybe we’re all trying to do too much,” said Hardy. He described the feeling in the dugout before Baltimore’s go-ahead hit as “frustrated, fatigued.” After the game, they were at least just fatigued. The same could not be said for the Yankees, who missed a chance to put away the series, but more troublingly, looked awful doing it.
Jayson Nix was probably the Yankees’ best hitter of the game, and the team that had more runs in the American League than anyone but Texas barely scraped a single run together -- fittingly, it scored on a groundout.
Of course, look where Texas is now.
Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ best hitter this season, came up three times with at least one runner on and grounded out or popped up. Curtis Granderson, who hit 43 homers over the course of the year, looked so terrible at the plate that it seems impolite to even discuss it. Alex Rodriguez was cheered extravagantly for a walk and a single and then struck out twice, grounded out and replaced by Eric Chavez, who found none of Raul Ibanez’s magic. Of course, neither did Raul Ibanez.
As if New York didn’t have enough to deal with, sad real-life events poked into the Stadium before the game, when news broke that manager Joe Girardi’s father Jerry had passed away at 81. In fact, Jerry Girardi had died Saturday around noon, with his son getting the call while the Yankees were on their team bus. Girardi said before the game that he reacted by putting on his sunglasses so no one would see tears in his eyes. Asked how he had told the team, his answer was that he had not.
“It’s been somewhat difficult. One of the reasons I didn’t say anything, I knew talking about it would make it probably even harder,” he explained. Further, he did not want it to be “a distraction,” and wanted to keep busy, and he said both of his parents had taught him to “always finish the job at hand.”
Girardi’s father had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for many years, to the point that when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, Girardi said, “I don’t think he understood.” He wasn’t sure if his father had understood Girardi’s appointment as Yankee manager either: “In my mind I want to believe he was able to comprehend, but I’m not sure.” Girardi runs an Alzheimer’s foundation dedicated to raising money and awareness to fight the disease. He talked about thinking after Wednesday night’s game that his parents were finally watching a game together, his mother having died in 1984.
But by the end of the press conference he was already being asked about whether the decision to pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez the night before had hurt Rodriguez’s ego. Then he was asked about the day’s lineup construction.
After the game he got no questions about his father at all. What about CC Sabathia? Will Jeter be able to play short tomorrow? Baseball goes on.
The Orioles are tired, the Yankees more so, and Girardi must be most of all, but all of them will try to prolong the exhaustion Friday.