The winner goes on to play Detroit Saturday; the loser gets to think about it until next spring.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, in explaining his decision to bench Rodriguez, noted that the slugger has struggled against right-handed pitchers in this series. The Orioles starting pitcher, Jason Hammel, is right-handed.
The Orioles got to a decisive fifth game by beating the Yankees 2-1 in 13 innings Thursday night (as well as early Friday morning) in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. It was a classic Orioles victory: keep the other team from scoring and then win in extra innings.
So does the Baltimore win give it an advantage on Friday, or are the Yankees the favorite? How will the absence of Rodriguez factor in?
David Pinto, author of the blog Baseball Musings, gives a small edge to New York, in part because it has the home-field advantage and it has its ace, CC Sabathia, on the mound.
“If you look at the season and the talent, then New York should have the advantage,” he says. “But if you look at the Orioles’ history this year and if you believe their record is structural – that is, the result of good decisions made by the manager and a good team – then the Orioles hang in there better than you think.”
In fact, if the Orioles can keep the game close, Mr. Pinto says, they have the advantage since they have won so many close games this season. “If it’s a tight game, Baltimore finds a way to win,” he says.
One of the Orioles’ advantages, he says, is that manager Buck Showalter is prepared for almost any situation. “He is very detail-oriented,” says Pinto.
For example, in the Orioles’ Game 4 win, Showalter made certain he had the right pitcher on the mound, especially in the late innings. “Buck is very good at getting the best matchups, he can. He is very good at putting his players in situations where they can succeed,” Pinto says.
On Thursday night, he brought in right-handed, sidearm-throwing Darren O’Day to face Rodriguez. Rodriguez struck out on four pitches with runners on second and third bases and only one out.
“His at bat against O’Day was terrible,” says Pinto. “A-Rod looks lost at the plate.”
The next batter, Nick Swisher, a switch-hitter, did not do much better. He sent an ordinary fly ball to right field.
“You could see what great movement O’Day had on the ball: The pitches would come up and then dip down over the plate,” says Pinto. “I’m not sure anyone could have done anything against him.”
Rodriguez has had high-profile struggles in the postseason, but he's not the only Yankee who is “scuffling,” to use Girardi’s term.
In their two postseason games at Yankee Stadium, the Bombers are only hitting .169. For the series as a whole, the team is hitting .216. Swisher (.133), Curtis Granderson (.063), and Robinson Cano (.111) are in slumps. The Yankees’ best hitters are Derek Jeter (.421), Mark Teixeira (.333), and Raul Ibanez (.500), who hit two pivotal home runs in Game 3, including the walk-off home in the 12th inning.
Still, the key advantage for the Yankees in Game 5 is their pitcher Sabathia, Pinto says.
In his last regular-season starts, he showed good control and pitched deep into the game. In Game 1 against the Orioles – won by the Yankees – he gave up only one run and pitched into the eighth inning. “He did a great job against the Orioles,” says Pinto.
“He has put a lot of people on base. It’s surprising his earned run average is not higher,” Pinto says. Hammel’s ERA is 3.18 for the division series and 5.79 for his career in Major League Baseball.
The Yankees’ record in five-game series that go the distance is only so-so. They have won two and lost three. The Orioles have not been in the fifth game of a division series.
[Editor's note: This story was updated at 5 p.m. on Oct. 12 with the news about Alex Rodriguez.]