NEW YORK - My favorite quote from the Orioles’ clubhouse tonight was provided by shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose RBI double in the top of the 13th inning broke a 2-2 tie and allowed the Orioles to avoid elimination in the American League Division Series.
The Orioles were hitting .208 in the Division Series coming into tonight, and the bats went cold again after Nate McLouth’s home run in the fifth inning.
“I don’t know what it is,” Hardy said. “Maybe it’s the pressure, maybe it’s the first time for a lot of us being here. It’s funny, but the whole game I was telling myself, ‘Don’t try to do too much.’ I’m trying to calm myself down and that wasn’t working, so that at-bat, I actually tried to tell myself to do a little bit more. I was swinging at a couple balls, and fortunately I got one that I could get up in the air.”
Self-inflicted pressure did the trick.
“It was do-or-die for us. It was a lot closer than we would have liked, but at least it turned out on the right side,” Hardy said. “Everyone’s been struggling for us and we’re having our chances and we’re not coming through. It felt good.
“We’ve been here quite a bit throughout the season, so I don’t feel like we were pressing, but obviously it was intense. We know we have to win this game or we’re going home, so we handled ourselves pretty well, I think.”
Is it comfortable for the Orioles to be extended past the 12th inning, since it’s happened eight times this season?
“No, no. No chance comfortable. Familiar maybe,” Hardy said.
“Our bullpen’s been doing a great job and that’s key. They’re giving us the chances to go out there and score and you’ve got to tip your hat to our bullpen.”
And now it comes down to a fifth game in this series, and the 23rd against the Yankees this year.
“I think we were all expecting this,” Hardy said. “One more. It’s going to come down to tomorrow, for sure.”
Joe Saunders, pitching in his second do-or-die playoff game with the Orioles, again surrendered only one run in 5 2/3 innings.
“I just told myself, ‘Hey, just try to minimize the walks,’ ” he said. “I think I walked way too many guys, more than I wanted to, but we got some big outs there and wanted to go deeper in the game, but it didn’t work out that way. I just told myself, ‘Hey, let’s not have a repeat of what happened in ‘09, when I had the last game here and lost in Game 6 of the ALCS in 2009.’ I didn’t want to end the season again for me and the team.
“I didn’t want to go home on my watch. I know these guys didn’t want to go home and I didn’t want to have that on my shoulders and on my conscience. I just tried to give it everything I had out there tonight. And the good Lord was behind me and we’ve got great family support here and fan support, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Was he feeling the pressure?
“You do,” Saunders said. “It’s pressure, anxiety. But you’ve got to battle through it. Like I’ve been telling myself all along, you’ve just go to stay within yourself, can’t try to do too much, and go out there and battle your tail off. I did that tonight.
“It’s fun and it’s tense at the same time. I came back out (to the dugout) in the 10th or 11th and it felt like I had pitched yesterday. It’s just one of those nights where it was a total team effort and we scratched out a victory.”
The bullpen played a huge role, as usual, with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Darren O’Day, the reliever who never rests, didn’t give up a hit in 2 2/3 frames and said he’s available on Friday.
“I feel good,” he said, ice packs on his right shoulder and elbow. “It’s what the season is for, to be here and pitching now, and I feel good.”
This has to be the busiest stretch of O’Day’s career.
“Yeah, probably,” he said. “It’s the postseason. You’ve got to make those moves, you’ve got to get the outs. Yeah, I’m pitching a lot, but that’s a good thing when the manager wants you in there. I’m excited about it.”
Manager Buck Showalter used all seven relievers and won’t avoid anyone on Friday.
“We’ve been practicing all year for this game,” O’Day said. “We’ve had a lot of rehearsals. There’s a lot of guys stepping up. Pedro (Strop) went out there and pitched two innings when every pitch can be the game, the season. He hasn’t pitched in eight days, and that’s what makes it more amazing. It’s the first playoff appearance of his career and he went out there and shoved for two innings. It’s been a constant theme this year of guys stepping up in big situations like that. And Jim Johnson, too. He went out there and had a pretty easy inning there with a one-run lead once again.”
The Orioles have grown so accustomed to extra innings, being extended to the 13th felt normal to them.
“We’ve been practicing all year,” O’Day said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to pitch Chris Davis. If he’s in there, then something’s wrong.”
Everything was right with Strop, who hadn’t pitched in the postseason until tonight and basically lost his set-up gig.
“I was feeling a lot better,” said Strop, who contributed two scoreless innings and got the win. “The opportunity for me to pitch wasn’t there yet, so tonight I was just ready for the opportunity. I wanted to give my team the opportunity to win.
“It was extra innings. Everybody had to pitch. Everyone was asking me, ‘Why are you not pitching?’ I was like, ‘We’re fine. I’m not pitching, but we’re fine.’ I don’t want to pay attention to why I’m not pitching. I just wanted to be ready for whatever situation there was for me to help the team.
“It was special, because you know it gave the manager a better flexibility to use the bullpen. Because I was struggling, he didn’t have the flexibility to use me in those kind of games. Now I showed I can help and was just ready for the situation. I was trying to make sure I was ready for whatever situation.”
Jim Johnson gained a measure of redemption by recording the save one night after allowing the game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez.
“It was fun, obviously, to do what I’m supposed to do,” Johnson said. “It was the same response from Game 1 to Game 2. You want the ball right away. You want to be able to come back right away for your teammates. And, obviously, that’s the way this game usually works out, just like that.
“If I have a bad outing, obviously it bothers you for a little bit, because that’s human nature. But by the time I leave the ballpark I’m never going to beat up myself too bad, because I know I’ve put the effort forward, I’ve put the work in. Everything I’ve put into it, I left it all out there, so I can’t be upset if I make a bad pitch, because I’ve done everything I can except for maybe I’ve made a mistake. So I can’t beat myself up for mistakes. I mean nobody’s perfect, so you trust everything that you do and then the next day you come back out and trust yourself again.”
Johnson had the chance to pick up the save because Manny Machado led off the 13th with a double and scored on Hardy’s double.
“It was huge, huge for the team,” Machado said. “We scuffled with the bats today and we just needed something to get the bats going and get the momentum back up.
“It’s been tough. We had our ups and downs, but we faced some great pitchers this postseason, every day, so we’ve just got to be patient and keep doing what we’re doing.
“This team, ever since I came up we’ve been having fun every day. Just enjoying ourselves. And we kind of, nobody said it, but everybody just kind of felt like nobody wanted to go home. We wanted to keep playing.”
And they will.