Published October 12, 2012
NEW YORK – The Baltimore Orioles came up short against the Yankees in the postseason, too.
The brash, young birds produced clutch hits all September while chasing New York. They fell one short in October.
The Orioles return to the postseason for the first time in 15 years ended with a 3-1 loss to CC Sabathia in the deciding Game 5 of the AL division series Friday.
"Every guy that was in that dugout believed that we were going to win it all until that final out was made," catcher Matt Wieters said.
After playing the rivals from New York even for 22 games this year, the Orioles' big bats had little success against the Yankees burly ace.
When they thought they did, they came out on the wrong side of another October call in New York.
In a twist reminiscent of the Baltimore-Yankees 1996 AL championship series, when 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the right field wall and pulled Derek Jeter's fly ball over the fence for a homer in Game 1, Nate McLouth hit a disputed fly to right in the sixth.
Unlike that game 16 years ago, McLouth's soaring two-out drive that just slipped past the foul pole was subject to video review. Right field umpire Fieldin Culbreth initially called McLouth's drive foul with a robust thrust of the arm.
Manager Buck Showalter asked for a review and four umpires went inside to check the replay. They upheld the call in a trip that lasted about 2 minutes.
A reporter for The Associated Press was shown the ball and he did not see any yellow paint from the foul pole on it.
"It was foul all the way, never hit the pole," said Steven Ellis of Queens, N.Y. He said he caught the ball with his hat.
That's the way Culbreth saw it, too.
"I saw it go to the right of the pole," he said. "There is netting there and it didn't touch the netting. It did not change direction."
McLouth then struck out.
"I knew when I was running down the line, kind of looking at it, I knew it was going to be really, really close. It started off fair and it was just hooking a little bit. I thought it was foul just in game speed," McLouth said. "A couple of people mentioned it might've ticked the pole but he was way closer than I was and I was satisfied after they went down and looked at the replay that it was foul."
The Orioles have been pursuing the Yankees all season, cutting a 10-game deficit in July to zero in early September. Baltimore and New York were tied 10 times atop the East in the final month but the Orioles lost the division on the final day of the season and finished two games back.
"As far as the local team here is concerned, we just want to tell them we will be back next year," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said of the Yankees in a rare clubhouse appearance. "They better get ready for it."
But the team that had the best record in one-run games (29-9) and ran off a string of 16 straight victories in extra innings advanced to the division series with a win over the West champion Texas Rangers in the wild-card playoff.
The Orioles pushed the Yankees to the brink in the division series with solid pitching. The bats went silent. J.J. Hardy's run-scoring double in the 13th inning in Thursday night's season-saving 2-1 win was their only hit with runners in scoring position in 16 at-bats in the first two games in New York. They were 3 for 22 in the three games.
"It's been about as much fun as I have had in the big leagues watching how they play the game every day," Showalter said, "the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore with each other."
Unwilling to believe the run was done, the entire team stood at the railing of their dugout and watched the Yankees celebrate for several moments after Wieters grounded back to Sabathia for the final out.
Still, Baltimore has to consider this a positive season. The Orioles went 93-69 and ended a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons since 1997, when they lost to Cleveland in the AL championship series following a 98-win season.
"We got to remember this feeling that we were that close," outfielder Adam Jones said. "Now we got to get over that hump. The postseason is where you want to be. ... As a team, the Baltimore Orioles had a sensational year."
Missing Nick Markakis, who broke his left thumb when hit by a pitch from Sabathia on Sept. 8, the Orioles mustered just five runs in the three games at Yankee Stadium — all on solo home runs.
They walked eight times and struck out 42.
Their best chance Friday came in the eighth when Lew Ford had an RBI single off Sabathia and then the Orioles loaded the bases with one out. But McLouth struck out and Hardy hit a soft grounder to shortstop and Jeter made a strong throw to first for the out.
"That last at-bat that I had with the bases loaded was obviously the key at-bat of the game," McLouth said. "I missed my pitch 0-1. He gave me a fastball that caught a lot of the plate and I fouled it back. He just made a really good pitch 1-2 and I wasn't able to come through."
Called up from the minors in August after being acquired from Pittsburgh in late May, McLouth was the Orioles steadiest bat these five games. He went 7 for 22 (.318) with a team-high three RBIs in the series.
The guys in the middle were duds. Jones went 2 for 23. Wieters was 3 for 20. Chris Davis 4 for 20. They had no RBIs and Wieters' double was their only extra-base hit.
"We fought, fought, fought," Jones said. "It's just unfortunate a lot of guys got cold at the wrong time."