NEW YORK – With midnight approaching, the Baltimore Orioles’ bats awoke one more time.
Now they’ll get a last shot to finally overtake the New York Yankees.
J.J. Hardy hit an RBI double in the 13th inning and Baltimore bounced back from a demoralizing loss to outlast the Yankees 2-1 Thursday night, forcing a deciding Game 5 in the American League divisional series.
After splitting 22 games this year, it all comes down this: a winner-take-all match for a spot in the AL championship series against Detroit.
Game 1 winner CC Sabathia is set to pitch the deciding game for the Yankees against Jason Hammel.
The Orioles were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position until Hardy doubled off David Phelps with one out to score Manny Machado, who had doubled.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of opportunities to score runs,” Hardy said, “so when there are those opportunities, I think we’re trying a little bit too hard.”
Phelps had relieved in the 12th after Joba Chamberlain was hit by a flying broken bat, forcing him to leave with a bruised right elbow.
Jim Johnson bounced back from allowing Raul Ibanez’s pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning Wednesday to earn his second save in the series with a perfect 13th.
“I don’t take for granted at any time what these guys are accomplishing so far,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “They know that. I have so much respect for our guys.”
Hours after learning Yankees Manager Joe Girardi had kept quiet that his father died last Saturday, the Yankees couldn’t rally late. This time, Girardi called upon Eric Chavez to pinch hit for slumping Alex Rodriguez. He lined out to third base to end it.
Baltimore’s win pushed all four division series to five games for the first time since the round began in 1995.
The Orioles have been pursuing the Yankees all season, cutting a 10-game deficit in July to zero in early September. Baltimore and New York were tied 10 times atop the East in the final month but the Yankees wrapped up the division on the final night of the regular season.
After dropping Game 1, the Orioles rebounded with another one-run win in a season in which they had the best record in the majors in such games at 29-9. But they lost in stunning fashion in 12 innings Wednesday night, when Ibanez homered twice in his two at-bats after pinch-hitting for Rodriguez.
These Birds don’t rattle, though.
They came right back Thursday for their first win in extras against the Yankees this year. It wasn’t easy, though. Nate McLouth homered off Phil Hughes to start the fifth, but Baltimore wasted three shots with a runner on third base in the first four innings.
But they struggled against New York’s bullpen.
Many of the Orioles gathered near their bat rack in the dugout for an impromptu cheer before the 13th and Machado then led off with a double.
One out later, Hardy hit a one-bouncer off the wall in left field for his first RBI of the series.
Tigers win series
OAKLAND — Almost as soon as Omar Infante threw out Seth Smith to end the Oakland Athletics surprising season, despair turned to appreciation.
The defeated A’s came out of their dugout to a standing ovation from a towel-waving crowd, soaking in the energy that fueled their run to an improbable division title and basking in one last “Let’s Go Oakland!” chant.
“That was the best part of the whole night,” second baseman Cliff Pennington said. “It went from, `Man, the season is over’ and the down of that to being able to walk out there and just see them one last time and kind of soak that in. That lifted you back up a little bit.”
They needed that lift after the way Justin Verlander shut them down for nine brilliant innings.
The A’s struck out 11 times and managed just four hits against last year’s AL Cy Young winner and MVP and were unable to complete an improbable comeback in the AL division series, losing Game 5 to the Detroit Tigers 6-0 on Thursday night.
Oakland overcame losses in the first two games of the best-of-five series and a two-run deficit in the ninth inning of Game 4 to force the decisive game against the Tigers. But Verlander proved to be too tough on this night.
“When Verlander gets on a roll like he was today, especially once he gets into his rhythm, you get into the middle innings and he’s rolling along pretty good, it’s tough to stop him,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s like a locomotive going at a high speed. He was tough to deal with. Unfortunately he had really good stuff tonight and carried it all the way through tonight.”
In what looked as if it could be a good omen for the A’s, the previous four pitchers to start a winner-take-all postseason game the season after winning the Cy Young award all ended up on the losing side.
But Verlander was sharp from the start, allowing just three baserunners in the first seven innings. The two hits and one walk all came with two outs as the A’s never really threatened Verlander.
Yoenis Cespedes was stranded after his double in the first, Brandon Moss was out trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt following his walk in the second and Derek Norris struck out swinging on a 98 mph fastball after Moss’ two-out single in the fifth.
“He’s always tough,” outfielder Coco Crisp said. “You go out there and you battle him the best that you can. Today he had some of his best stuff of the year.”
Jarrod Parker, one of a record three rookie pitchers to start in this series, pitched well again but proved to be no match for Verlander for a second time this series. After being hurt by his own error in a Game 1 loss, it was two wild pitches in a two-run third that helped do in Parker this time.
Infante led off the inning with a single and advanced on a wild pitch. Austin Jackson followed with an RBI double and went to third on Quintin Berry’s sacrifice. Jackson scored on a second wild pitch, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead.
Parker left with runners on first and third with one out in the seventh and sat in the dugout with a towel draped over his head in frustration. That only grew deeper when the bullpen those two runners and two others to score that inning to make it 6-0.
The A’s were never supposed to be in this position after trading top starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and closer Andrew Bailey in the offseason as they were building for the future.
That future came quicker than anyone expected as Oakland overcame a major league-low payroll of $59.5 million to beat out the big-spending Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels for the AL West title. They wrapped up that title with a three-game sweep of Texas in the final regular season series, bringing a rare excitement and intensity to an out-of-date stadium that has struggled to attract fans in recent years.
That carried over to the postseason as the A’s staved off elimination the previous two nights, including the dramatic comeback from two runs down in the ninth inning Wednesday to force Game 5.
The A’s were hoping to ride the momentum from that three-run rally to win a postseason series for just the second time since 1990. Four teams previously had overcome a two-run deficit in the ninth inning or later of a potential elimination game and went on to win the series.
Instead of joining teams like last year’s St. Louis Cardinals that accomplished the unlikely feat, the A’s can only take those memories – not a series win – with them from their 15th walkoff win of the season Wednesday night.
“This team has just been so amazing throughout the entire year,” third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “We’ve put a really great run together. It was something special and hopefully something to look forward to next year.”
Giants top Reds, 6-4
CINCINNATI — The entire season was a comeback for Buster Posey, so he didn’t think anything of it when San Francisco needed one of the biggest yet to play for a pennant.
He led them to one of Giant proportions.
The National League batting champion hit the third grand slam in Giants postseason history on Thursday, sending San Francisco back to the championship series with a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
They will play Game 1 on Sunday, either in Washington against the Nationals or in San Francisco against the wild card St. Louis Cardinals. They planned to stick around town until the Nationals-Cardinals series, tied 2-all, is decided on Friday.
Matter which one?
“We could go up against anybody at any time,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Being down 2-0 and coming back and winning three at their place, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The Giants became the first NL team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the division series, which began in 1995. Major League Baseball’s changed playoff format this season allowed them to become the first to take a best-of-five by winning the last three on the road.
San Francisco won the World Series in 2010 without trailing in any of its postseason series. The Giants took four of five from Texas for their sixth title and their first since they moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958.
They’ve really had to scramble this season to get another shot at it.
Their bullpen took a huge hit when closer Brian Wilson blew out his elbow, and that was just the start. All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera got a 50-game suspension in August after a positive testosterone test, taking a .346 hitter out of their lineup. The Giants have decided not to bring him back, even though he’s eligible to return for the NL championship series.
Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum pitched so poorly – 15 losses – that he got relegated to the bullpen for the division series.
And don’t forget that Posey was coming off a broken leg that wiped out most of his 2011 season, making a great comeback of his own.
“Unreal,” said Sergio Romo, who fanned Scott Rolen with two runners aboard to end it. “That guy’s definitely the MVP of our team. We believe he’s the MVP of the league. We wouldn’t be here without him, that’s for dang sure. He’s the one that’s been the face of the team all season long. What a great story with all he’s been through last year.”
Posey’s second career grand slam, off Mat Latos, put the Giants up 6-0 in the fifth and sparked a joyous scrum in the San Francisco dugout. The ball smacked off the front of the upper deck in left field, just above Latos’ name on the video board.
For the first time in the series, the Giants could exhale.
“I don’t think anybody gave up,” Posey said.
Will Clark, in the 1989 NLCS, and Chuck Hiller, in the 1962 World Series, hit the other Giants slams in the postseason.
Matt Cain and the bullpen held on, with more help from Posey. The All-Star catcher threw out Jay Bruce at third base to snuff out a sixth-inning rally that cut it to 6-3. The Giants had a pair of diving catches that preserved the lead in the eighth.
There was more drama in the ninth. Ryan Ludwick singled home a run before Romo got Rolen swinging to end it.
The Giants raised their arms, hugged and huddled by the side of the mound, bouncing in unison.
“It was a spectacular moment,” outfielder Hunter Pence said.
In Cincinnati, the home-field meltdown had a sickeningly familiar feeling. The Reds haven’t won a home playoff game in 17 years. After taking the first two on the West Coast, all they needed was one more at home, where they hadn’t dropped three straight all season.
“You get tired of the disappointments, but then you get over it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It hurts big-time.”
Once Posey connected, the Reds were the ones facing a steep comeback. They’ve never overcome a six-run deficit in the playoffs, according to STATS LLC.
Couldn’t do it this time, either.
“Buster Posey’s swing was a series-changer,” said Reds star Joey Votto, standing on second base when the game ended. “That made it very difficult to come back. You know they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at us.”
The Reds won’t forget the first inning of the series, when everything changed. Ace Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his right side and had to leave the game. Latos pulled them through that opening game, pitching in relief on short rest for a 5-2 win.
He couldn’t get them another one, or end that 17-year streak of futility.
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