NEW YORK—The Orioles knew that duplicating their regular-season success at Yankee Stadium wouldn’t be easy – that beating the Yankeesin October in their home ballpark would take an extra level of resiliency.
Now, after a heart-breaking, 12-inning, 3-2 walk-off loss to the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, they will need to reinvent an entirely new brand of Oriole Magic to keep their season alive.
The Orioles were just two outs away from taking a commanding 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. But a pair of solo homers by Raul Ibanez – one to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off homer to open the bottom of the 12th – quickly reversed the roles and put the Orioles on the brink of elimination.
"It's pretty much win or go home tomorrow, isn't it?” said center fielder Adam Jones, who misplayed a ball in center that cost the O’s a run in the third inning. “There's pretty much no turning back. We're going to have the same attitude, the same mentality we've had since the first day of spring training. We're going to have fun, let it fly and live with the results."
Even after Ibanez – pinch-hitting for struggling slugger Alex Rodriguez in the ninth – deposited closer Jim Johnson’s 94-mph fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game, there was no cause for panic.
The Orioles had been the masters of extra innings, winning 16 straight during the regular season.
But when Ibanez came to the plate again in the 12th and took left-hander Brian Matusz’s first pitch of the inning into the right-field stands for the game-winning homer – sending 50,497 fans into a frenzy and prompting a dog pile at the plate – it dealt the Orioles a punch to the gut.
“It breaks your heart,” said Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who pitched masterfully in his first playoff start and was in line for the win before Ibanez’s first homer.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who helped build the Yankees dynasty as manager before an unceremonious departure following the 1995 season, has instilled a never-say-die mentality in his team this season. Now, the O's face their toughest test of the season, a a must-win Game 4 Thursday here in the Bronx.
“I don't have no knot in my stomach,” Showalter said. “Why not? Is that what I'm supposed to do? Is that what conventional thinking is? … We don't live in that world. We're so impressed with all our guys tonight. [They] played a great game in a tough situation, and they'll come out and compete tomorrow.”
The Orioles faced a similar situation a week ago in the one-game wild-card game in Texas, beating the Rangers, 5-1. The O’s also rebounded from a tough Game 1 loss, when they feall 7-2 after heading into the ninth tied, to win Game 2 in Baltimore.
"We've been in this situation before,” said reliever Darren O’Day, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning. "What was it, Friday night? You either win or you go home. That's the mindset we've got to take these next two games."
The Orioles hadn’t lost an extra-inning game since losing back-to-back such games to the Yankees on April 10-11 at Camden Yards. Ibanez also won the first of those games on a 12th-inning ground-rule double.
In the 12th inning Wednesday, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters called for a fastball away, but Matusz’ fateful 91-mph fastball was high and split the plate.
“I made a bad pitch,” Matusz said. “A lot going through my mind. You never want to experience a situation like that. Whether it’s a game-winning walk-off home run or in the first inning. The ultimate goal is to go out there and throw strikes and put up zeros.”
The Orioles bullpen has been its greatest strength and Johnson, who set a club record and led the majors with 51 saves in the regular season, has been its anchor. But after yielding just three homers in 71 regular-season innings, Johnson has allowed two ninth-inning homers in the first three games of the ALDS.
“Frustrating," Johnson said. "I got to get over it quick."
The Orioles, who had won six of nine games at Yankee Stadium during the regular season – taking all three series here – took a 2-1 lead into the ninth after the 28-year-old rookie Gonzalez held the Yankees to one run in seven innings.
The entire Orioles offense came from solo homers by second baseman Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado, who became the first rookie teammates to homer in the same postseason game, according to STATS, LLC.