Baltimore Orioles: For baseball's Cinderella, has midnight finally struck?

After losing a heartbreaker Wednesday, the Baltimore Orioles must beat the New York Yankees twice in a row in Yankee Stadium to avoid elimination. But don't count them out yet.

Bill Kostroun/AP
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz leaves the field as New York Yankees' Raul Ibanez (27) heads to home plate after hitting the game-winning home run in the 12th inning in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Wednesday in New York.

For most of the baseball season, the Baltimore Orioles surprised everyone with their resiliency, their ability to win clutch games, and their fearless play.

Now, the Orioles have their backs against the wall.

On Wednesday night, New York Yankee left handed power hitter Raul Ibañez, pinch hitting for a struggling Alex Rodriguez, hit two home runs. The first tied the game in the ninth inning; the second was a walkoff blast in the bottom of the 12th inning.

Down 2 games to 1 in the best-of-five American League Division Series, the Orioles have to win Thursday in order to play again on Friday night to move on to the American League Championship Series.

Can they pull it off?

“Absolutely, they can,” answers Ed Randall, host of Ed Randall’s Talking Baseball show on New York’s WFAN radio and host of Sirius XM radio’s MLB Home Plate show. “These guys have been resilient all year there is no reason to think that losing on Wednesday put a dagger in their heart.”

To win tonight, Randall says the Orioles will have beat up on Yankee right-handed starter Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 earned-run average). Hughes has been far from consistent this year, with the Yankees not certain whether they will have the dominant pitcher he can be or the one who gives up too many home runs.

On Wednesday, at a press conference, Hughes tried to downplay his inconsistent performance. “I had kind of an up-and-down season, but you can’t really look at the regular season when it comes to times like this,” he said.

For the Yankees to win, they will have to get the better of left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63 ERA with Orioles). Saunders, who came to the Orioles in late August from the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitched the Orioles into the ALDS by beating the Texas Rangers in the American League Wild Card Game.

“He got stronger as the night went on,” says Randall. “Throwing a leftie at the Yankees helps neutralize some of those good left-handed hitters.”

The problem for the Orioles will be getting back in their hitting groove. Some of their stars such as Adam Jones (.125 batting average in the ALDS) and Mark Reynolds (.214) have been stymied. “Chris Davis (.357) is probably the best,” says Randall. So far, in the ALDS the Yankees have outscored the Orioles, 13-6.

However, through the year, both teams have been about equal, evenly splitting their 18 games. Even more importantly, the Orioles have not been intimidated in Yankee Stadium. “Baltimore has outhit and outpitched the Yankees in New York,” says Randall. “This is a very even series.”

One of the reasons why the ALDS has been so close is that Yankees star Alex Rodriguez (.083) has been – in Girardi’s words – “scuffling.”

His lack of home runs in recent weeks has been in all the sports tabloids. “He is the first to admit he has been weak and overmatched,” says Randall.

Despite the slump, Girardi says he will play Rodriguez on Thursday night. But, exactly where in the lineup is undecided. In the first three games, he has hit in the No. 3 spot.

Pinch-hitting for Rodriguez Wednesday surprised almost everyone. “It gives lie to the theory that Joe Girardi manages completely from his binder" filled with baseball stats, says Randall. “It is easily the most shocking move he has ever made.”

Girardi in the post-game press conference said his “gut” told him to make the change.

If Baltimore is able to win on Thursday night, their journey to play in a World Series will get even steeper. On Friday night they would face C.C. Sabathia who beat them in Game 1. Orioles manager Buck Showalter says he will start right-hander Jason Hammel who started Game 1 (no decision).

“You certainly have to think New York would be the favorite,” says Randall. “But, the Yankees don’t want it to get there because in that game there is no tomorrow” if they lose.

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