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 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.
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Sunday, at Baltimore (12:15 p.m. HST); Game 2, Monday, at Baltimore (8:07 p.m.); Game 3, Wednesday, at New York (TBA); x-Game 4, Thursday, at New York (TBA); x-Game 5, Friday, at New York (TBA). (All games on TBS or MLB Network).
Season Series: Split, 9-all.
Yankees: SS Derek Jeter (.316, 15 HRs, 58 RBIs, 99 runs, MLB-best 216 hits), LF Ichiro Suzuki (.283, 9, 55, 29 SBs with Mariners and Yankees), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.272, 18, 57), 2B Robinson Cano (.313, 33, 94, 48 doubles, 105 runs), RF Nick Swisher (.272, 24, 93), 1B Mark Teixeira (.251, 24, 84), CF Curtis Granderson (.232, 43, 106, 195 Ks), DH Raul Ibanez (.240, 19, 62) or Eduardo Nunez (.292, 1, 11, 11 SBs, 7 errors in 38 games), C Russell Martin (.211, 21, 53).
Orioles: LF Nate McLouth (.268, 7 HRs, 18 RBIs, 12 SBs), SS J.J. Hardy (.238, 22, 68), CF Adam Jones (.287, 32, 82, 16 SBs), C Matt Wieters (.249, 23, 83), RF Chris Davis (.270, 33, 85, 169 Ks), 1B Mark Reynolds (.221, 23, 69), DH Jim Thome (.257, 3, 10 in 28 games), 3B Manny Machado (.262, 7, 26), 2B Robert Andino (.211, 7, 28) or Ryan Flaherty (.216, 6, 19).
Yankees: LH CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA, 200 IP, 197 Ks), LHP Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 in 12 starts), RHP Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32, 219 2-3 IP), RHP Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23, 191 1-3 IP).
Orioles: LH Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02, 154 Ks, 57 BBs, 192 2-3 IP), RH Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25, 77 Ks, 105 1-3 IP), RH Chris Tillman (9-3, 2.93, 66 Ks, 86 IP), LH Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63, 23 Ks, 8 BBs in 44 2-3 IP over 7 starts with Orioles after Aug. 26 trade from Arizona; 9-13, 4.07 in 28 starts overall) or RH Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43, 113 Ks, 42 BBs, 118 IP).
Yankees: RH Rafael Soriano (2-1, 2.26, 42/46 saves), RH David Robertson (2-7, 2.67, 2 saves, 81 Ks in 60 2-3 IP), LH Boone Logan (7-2, 3.74, 1 save, AL-high 80 games), RH Joba Chamberlain (1-0, 4.35 in 22 games), RH David Phelps (4-4, 3.34 in 33 games, 11 starts), RH Derek Lowe (9-11, 5.11, 1 save in 38 games, 21 starts with Indians and Yankees), LH Clay Rapada (3-0, 2.82 in 70 games, 38 1-3 IP), RH Cody Eppley (1-2, 3.33 in 59 games).
Orioles: RH Jim Johnson (2-1, 2.49, major league-leading 51/54 saves), RH Pedro Strop (5-2, 2.44, 3 saves, 58 Ks in 66 1-3 IP), RH Darren O’Day (7-1, 2.28, 2 saves in 69 games), RH Luis Ayala (5-5, 2.64), LH Brian Matusz (6-10, 4.87 in 34 games, 16 starts), RH Tommy Hunter (7-8, 5.45, 32 HRs in 33 games, 20 starts), LH Troy Patton (1-0, 2.43 ERA in 54 games).
First playoff meeting between these AL East foes since 1996, when the Yankees won the ALCS 4-1. The series began with a famous controversy: New York won in extra innings at home after 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the right-field wall to interfere with a ball hit by Jeter, who was credited with a disputed, game-tying HR. … After building a 10-game cushion in the AL East by July 18 this season, it appeared the $200 million Yankees would cruise on home to their second consecutive division title and third in four years. Instead, they would up in a serious fight. Alex Rodriguez was sidelined by a broken hand and the pesky Orioles charged hard, catching New York on Sept. 4. The teams were tied for first place 10 times in September, but the Yankees never fell behind and finally shook free by sweeping the last-place Red Sox during the season’s final series while Baltimore dropped two of three at Tampa Bay. With both teams already assured a trip to the postseason, the race went down to the final night, when New York blew out Boston and the Orioles lost to the Rays. Turns out, the Yankees haven’t brushed off these Birds just yet. … After dropping three in a row at home in April to New York by a collective 29-8 score, the Orioles came back to win all three series at Yankee Stadium. It’s the first time since 2007 the Yankees didn’t win the season series. … Reynolds hit seven homers against New York this year, most by an Orioles player against the Yankees. … So far, the playoffs are a trip down memory lane for Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter. Riding a solid start by Saunders, the Orioles won the AL wild-card game 5-1 at Texas, a team Showalter managed from 2002-06. He got his first job as a big league manager with the Yankees. Showalter was drafted by the Yankees, played in their farm system and managed the team from 1992-95, leading New York to its first playoff appearance in 14 years in 1995. After his club lost a heartbreaker at Seattle in the deciding game of the division series, Showalter was rep laced by Joe Torre, who piloted the Yankees to four World Series championships over the following five years. The sharp-eyed Showalter played a major role in cultivating the building blocks for that successful run and beyond.
Yankees: This was no walk in Monument Park. The Yankees, who went 19-8 down the stretch, finished two games ahead of Baltimore for their 13th division crown in 17 years, earning home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Now they’ll try to win their 28th World Series championship to match the uniform number on manager Joe Girardi’s back. … The aging Yankees (95-67) looked old and tired at times throughout a mediocre second half. Injuries took their toll, too. In addition to A-Rod and Mariano Rivera, Sabathia had two stints on the disabled list, Pettitte missed nearly three months with a broken ankle and speedy LF Brett Gardner (elbow) sat out almost the entire season. Teixeira (calf) was sidelined for all but one game between Aug. 28 and Sept. 30, so he and Rodriguez were in the lineup together only once during August and September. Teixeira returned in time for the Boston series and New York now has all its thunder back in the middle of a powerful lineup. Cano ended the season on a torrid hitting streak and the Bronx Bombers led the majors with a club-record 245 home runs. They often struggled with runners in scoring position, though, and were criticized for being too reliant on the long ball. New York was 0-58 when trailing after eight innings before a big comeback in the penultimate game of the season. It was a lack of clutch hitting that cost the Yankees in their division series loss to Detroit last year. … Jeter did an excellent job setting the table all season and Suzuki, also 38, provided strong defense and a much-needed stolen-base threat after he was obtained in late July. Seeking his first trip to the World Series, Suzuki even hit his way up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup against right-handers with a late surge. … An experienced bench that included part-timers Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones played a huge role in New York’s success. Many of the biggest hits all season came from the 40-year-old Ibanez. … Sabathia didn’t have his best season but should be fresh for October after a lighte r workload. The rest of the rotation is a question mark. Back in the playoffs after a one-year retirement, Pettitte is baseball’s career leader in postseason wins (19) and starts (42). Can he still be clutch at age 40 after only 12 regular-season outings? Kuroda was strong and dependable during his first year with New York, but he piled up plenty of innings and struggled in September before throwing well in the season finale. … Even without Rivera, there are late-inning answers and effective specialists in the capable bullpen.
Orioles: First playoff appearance for Baltimore since 1997. The Orioles (93-69) were in competition for AL East title until final day, then lost 4-1 at Tampa Bay to end up on road in wild-card round. … Baltimore had 14 consecutive losing seasons and four straight last-place finishes before turning it around under Showalter, now in his second full season. This is also Dan Duquette’s first season as executive vice president of baseball operations. Through shrewd trades and free-agents additions, he added much-needed depth to a thin roster. … The Orioles went 29-9 in one-run games and have won amazing 16 straight in extra innings. … Johnson’s 51 saves were a club record, shattering Randy Myers’ mark of 45 in 1997. … Davis homered in six straight games before the streak ended in regular-season finale. His late push enabled him to overtake Jones as the team leader in HRs and RBIs. … Machado was playing for Double-A Bowie when the Orioles purchased his contract on Aug. 9 and made him the starting 3B. Although groomed to be a shortstop, the 20-year-old rookie has handled the hot corner efficiently and showed surprising punch at the plate. … Jones played in all 162 games. Orioles are 23-8 when he homers. … Showalter said the Orioles have talked about wanting to advance deep enough into the postseason for RF Nick Markakis to return. Markakis, who endured lean years in Baltimore, was sidelined with a broken left thumb Sept. 8 when he was hit by a pitch from Sabathia. … Hammel, who left his start Sept. 11 due to a sore right knee, is expected to be ready to pitch in this series.
— Missing Mo. This marks the Yankees’ 17th playoff appearance in 18 years — but the first one during that stretch without Rivera in the bullpen. The career saves leader and postseason stalwart tore a knee ligament while shagging flies in early May. Soriano stepped in and did a fantastic job, but now the pressure on him intensifies. All it takes is one blown save in October, especially when you’re replacing Mr. Automatic.
— Closing Time. If the Orioles have a lead in the late innings, they’re awfully tough to beat. They were 74-0 when leading after seven innings, the best mark in the majors. Johnson hasn’t blown a save opportunity since July 27 and finished the regular season with 20 saves and an ERA under 1.00 after July 30. He didn’t allow an earned run until May 10 and hasn’t given up a HR since June 5. His 2.49 ERA would be a whole lot better if not for two appearances in which he yielded a total of 11 runs. He allowed 10 runs in his other 69 games.
— Money Player. Swisher has been a consistent run-producer during four years in pinstripes, but also a postseason flop. Eligible for free agency after the season, the bubbly switch-hitter is under pressure to come through.
— Going Deep. These Orioles are patterned after those Earl Weaver teams of long ago. Rarely do they seek to manufacture runs with bunts and steals; rather, they rely on the three-run homer. The formula has worked. Baltimore hit 127 homers at Camden Yards, its most at home in one season.
— Sore Spot? At age 37, Rodriguez doesn’t look like the same hitter who carried the Yankees to their most recent championship with a huge 2009 postseason. Of course, he’s been a perennial October bust besides that. A double in the regular-season finale was A-Rod’s first extra-base hit since Sept. 14. Opposing pitchers wary of Cano might choose to go after Rodriguez, and he needs to do his share.