Resilient O's force Game 5 on Hardy's hit in 13th

Relievers toss 7 1/3 shutout innings as RBI double stands as winner

October 11th, 2012

NEW YORK -- Perhaps they are better when the chips are down, a team that had been bullied for a decade-and-a-half more comfortable with its backs against the wall and a slew of statistics and cynics looking poised to prevail.

Maybe these Orioles like to be doubted, a close-knit club that has only gotten stronger through its struggles enjoying the challenge in hanging around long after everyone said it was supposed to. Or perhaps, as Thursday's hero J.J. Hardy put it, manager Buck Showalter's crew simply wasn't ready to go home quite yet.

"We just kept telling ourselves, this is not the last night of the season," Hardy said.

And then, with Thursday's potential elimination game approaching the 4 1/2-hour mark, the Orioles shortstop made sure of it.

To say Baltimore's bats were due would be an understatement, the same as calling Hardy's 13th-inning RBI double merely a clutch hit. It was -- by any standard -- a game-changing, season-saving ball that one-hopped to the left-center-field fence at Yankee Stadium, allowing rookie Manny Machado to cross the plate and Baltimore to take a deep breath as the gritty O's again showed their battled-tested bravado.

Fresh off a dramatic and excruciating extra-innings loss in Game 3, the Orioles edged the Yankees in a 2-1, 13-inning win in front of 49,307 to force a winner-take-all Game 5 in the American League Division Series.

"It's hard to do what they do, and it's what separates them," Showalter said. "They look at a night like tonight and tomorrow as an opportunity to shine and separate themselves, and I'm sure so do the Yankees. Anything worth accomplishing comes with some real prices to pay."

Assuming the even-keeled persona of Showalter, the Orioles -- who have excelled in one-run games and extra innings all season -- turned in one for the books. The longest game in the club's postseason history, Thursday's win had a lot of contributors. Namely the entire pitching staff, as Showalter emptied the bullpen and every arm stepped up to combine for 7 1/3 scoreless innings and keep Baltimore a perfect 8-0 in contests of 13 innings or more.

There was closer Jim Johnson, who endured a blown save two outs away from sealing Game 3, locking down the 13th inning with a perfect frame. And the previously struggling Pedro Strop, tossing two scoreless innings in his first postseason outing and first appearance since Oct. 3. Sidearmer Darren O'Day went 2 2/3 innings -- his longest outing since 2008 --while Luis Ayala came on to get one of the biggest outs of the game.

"Pedro was huge and it doesn't stop with him either," Johnson said. "Look at Darren, look at what he has done these whole playoffs. Look at Luis, look at [Troy] Patton and [Brian] Matusz, and look at our starting pitchers. They've pitched great this whole series. It's everybody together. You don't just look at one guy, you look at the whole group collectively.

Up and down the list, the Orioles' pitchers came through in a game that started with an impressive start from veteran Joe Saunders and morphed into what left fielder Nate McLouth cheekily called "guarded optimism" as Machado crossed home plate to finally break the tie.

"The key is to never lose that good feeling," veteran slugger Jim Thome said. "And I don't think our club ever has."

"Everybody just kind of felt like nobody wanted to go home," said Machado, who doubled off reliever David Phelps to open the 13th inning. "We wanted to keep playing."

Machado's hit gave the Orioles their first runner in scoring position since the fourth inning, and he moved to third on McLouth's groundout to second base. Phelps, who was inserted the inning prior when Joba Chamberlain left with a right elbow bruise, couldn't contain Hardy as the shortstop -- not wanting to ground out again -- instead sent the ball sailing into the outfield.

"All game I was trying to get myself not to do too much," Hardy said. "That wasn't working, so at that at-bat I told myself to do a bit more. I was swinging at a lot of balls and fortunately I got one that I could elevate."

A struggling Orioles offense, which mustered only McLouth's fifth-inning homer off Yankees starter Phil Hughes, continued to falter in frustrating fashion for most of the game. The Nos. 2-7 hitters combined to go 3-for-29 with nine strikeouts and a walk, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position over the first 12 innings as Baltimore's pitching kept it afloat.

And arguably none more than O'Day, who stranded the go-ahead run 90 feet away in getting Alex Rodriguez to strike out on four pitches and Nick Swisher to fly out to end the eighth. The Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position the first 10 innings, and O'Day has now thrown seven scoreless innings this postseason.

"We've been practicing all year for this game," O'Day said of an Orioles club that improved to 31-10 in one-run games. "We've had a lot of rehearsals. There's a lot of guys stepping up."

Saunders was chief among them. With the Orioles squandering several opportunities off Hughes, the 31-year-old Saunders kept the Yankees in check. Coming off an impressive 5 2/3-innings win in Baltimore's AL Wild Card win over Texas on Friday night, Saunders worked out of several sticky spots to come up big again in a nearly identical outing.

"It's pressure, anxiety, but you've got to battle through it," Saunders said of pitching in his second elimination game in less than a week. "Like I've been telling myself all along, you've just go to stay yourself, can't try to do too much. And go out there and battle your tail off. I did that tonight."

Saunders, who had a shutout heading into the sixth, surrendered a leadoff double to Derek Jeter and exited after an RBI groundout from Robinson Cano, with Showalter opting to go with right-hander Tommy Hunter to face struggling Rodriguez. Hunter struck out Rodriguez on a healthy diet of fastballs, throwing four heaters after a curveball to get Rodriguez and end the inning.

The veteran Saunders never had a clean inning, but was helped by an impressive double play in the fourth and McLouth's standout effort in the fifth. A former Gold Glove winner, McLouth made a fantastic catch against the left-center-field wall to rob Jayson Nix of an extra-base hit and then fired a relay throw in to Hardy, who turned and threw to first baseman Mark Reynolds to get Russell Martin for an inning-ending double play.

"[It] was just kind of how I had written it up," Saunders said wryly of McLouth's catch. "It was a 395-foot fly ball that we doubled up the guy. But, hey, in this game at this time, outs are outs and you'll take them anyway you can."

The Orioles have the mindset in regard to Friday's game, as Baltimore is -- unsurprisingly -- the underdog against Yankees ace CC Sabathia.

"This is why you go to Spring Training, you work hard, you go through the long grind of the season to put yourself in a position for tomorrow night," Thome said. "And it should be a great night. This whole series has been great. That's why you play a full series. You don't get down, you stay positive and we've done that."