Orioles enjoying renaissance heading into playoffs
BALTIMORE — 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 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 April in Baltimore, 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 and is expected to start in Game 2 on Monday night, 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).