Orioles, Yankees rekindle playoff memories of 1996

Orioles rookie third baseman Manny Machado was a 4-year-old when

Baltimore and the New York Yankees last met in the postseason.

In case the kid needs a quick history lesson, left-hander David

Wells won a game for Baltimore, Cecil Fielder and Darryl Strawberry

homered for the Yankees, and a youngster named Jeffrey Maier stuck

his glove in the middle of the whole thing.

The 1996 AL championship series was a lifetime ago for many

Orioles fans and a rather meaningless event in the development of

Machado, now 20 and a key player in Baltimore’s improbable,

magnificent 2012 season.

Sixteen years after the Yankees ousted the Orioles from the

playoffs and advanced to the World Series, the teams resume their

rivalry Sunday night in Game 1 of the AL division series. It will

be Baltimore’s first home postseason game since 1997.

The Orioles spent much of the season chasing New York in the AL

East, and now they have an opportunity to get the better of the

Yankees in a far more significant scenario. After New York swept a

three-game set in Baltimore in April, the Orioles rebounded to

forge a split of the 18-game season series.

”We’ve played those guys a lot this year. We know what they’ve

got, they know what we’ve got,” Orioles first baseman Mark

Reynolds said. ”It’ll come down to a big pitch or a big

at-bat.”

Or, the outcome could be influenced by a fan in pursuit of a

souvenir. In the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, Maier

stuck his glove over the right-field wall and appeared to rob Tony

Tarasco of the chance to catch a deep fly hit by Derek Jeter.

Umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run, and the Yankees won in

extra innings en route to capturing the series 4-1.

Jeter and Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who won the

decisive fifth game of that series, have been to many playoff

series since. In this one, they enter as part of a team that went

14-4 down the stretch to finish with the AL’s best record.

And yet, the Yankees open the series on the road.

”That’s the topic of discussion right now but, you know, this

is a one year thing and we’re going to have to win some games on

the road most likely anyway if we make it to the promised land,”

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. ”We’re not going to

complain about starting the first two on the road.”

And the Orioles? Well, they’re delighted to be playing in front

of their home fans, but really, they’re just happy to be playing at

this time of year – period.

After their abrupt exit from the postseason in 1996, the Orioles

returned in 1997. Fourteen straight losing seasons followed before

they put together an unimaginable 93-69 record this year under

former Yankees manager Buck Showalter. For an encore, Baltimore

beat the Texas Rangers and their best pitcher Yu Darvish 5-1 on

Friday night in the one-game, win-or-go-home wild-card round.

The Yankees’ first-game starter will be ace CC Sabathia (15-6,

3.38 ERA). The big left-hander came into the season 16-2 versus the

Orioles and 10-1 in Baltimore, but that was against the old

Orioles. This year, he went 0-2 in three starts at Camden

Yards.

”Adam Jones has gotten a lot better, obviously; Mark Reynolds

has gotten adjusted to the American League and is swinging the bat

well,” Sabathia said Saturday before the Yankees’ workout at

Camden Yards. ”(Matt) Wieters has gotten better over the years, so

they’ve just gotten a bunch of talented guys that have gotten a lot

better and they’ve made it tough on me.”

On Sept. 8, Sabathia yielded five runs and eight hits –

including three homers – in 6 1-3 innings. That prompted questions

about his health, and Sabathia insisted he was fine.

He proved it in his final three starts of the regular season,

going 2-0 while allowing four runs and 13 hits in 24 innings.

Showalter has selected Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43) to start on the

mound for the Orioles, even though the right-hander has pitched

only twice since July 17 and not since Sept. 11. Hammel had surgery

on his right knee in July and returned to pitch in two games before

experiencing pain in the same knee.

”No concern with the knee,” Hammel said. ”First and foremost,

I want to thank Buck for having the confidence in putting me back

out there in such an important situation.”

Hammel was 8-2 with a 2.61 ERA on June 22. He lost his next four

starts, in part because the knee was becoming a problem, and he

went on the disabled list after making an early exit from a game in

Detroit on July 13.

He pitched a simulated game Monday and a bullpen session Friday,

and said both sessions went well.

” He’s not so far removed. It’s not a pitch count thing or

anything,” Showalter said. ”The challenge is going to be the

Yankees, and they’ll let us know how he’s pitching. We’re excited

about the possibility of getting him back.”

The Yankees will have Pettitte follow Sabathia in Game 2, with

Hiroki Kuroda starting Game 3 at Yankee Stadium and Phil Hughes

pitching Game 4.

Girardi weighed pitching two lefties in a row against giving

Kuroda more days off and getting Pettitte on the mound sooner – he

last pitched Sept. 29.

”We just felt that the extra rest would probably help him,”

Girardi said of Kuroda. ”We don’t want Andy to go too long without

throwing, so it’s kind of those two factors.”

Showalter is leaning toward rookies Wei-Yin Chen in Game 2 and

Miguel Gonzalez in Game 3 depending on the weather Sunday. If

there’s a rainout things could change, he said.

New York comes in as the favorite, but that means nothing to the

Orioles. Getting a fine start from August addition Joe Saunders,

Baltimore knocked off the two-time defending AL champs on Friday

night in Texas.

”The Rangers were the consensus favorite to win the American

League, and for us to come out of nowhere was pretty awesome,”

reliever Darren O’Day said. ”We were picked to finish in the

basement in the AL East. The only guys who believed in us were the

guys in our clubhouse. We just kept playing.”

And so, the Orioles will keep playing well into October.

”People thought we’d be making tee times right now,” O’Day

said.

NOTES: Yankees OF-DH Andruw Jones says he will not be on the

roster for the division series. … Showalter says INF Wilson

Betemit (right wrist) took batting practice and felt good, and that

he could be a factor when finalizing the roster.