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YORK -- Hit the ball out of the park, get just enough starting pitching and hold onto leads in the late innings. It was a simple formula, and it worked awfully well for the Orioles for 162 games -- 163, really.
Once the American League Division Series started, Baltimore managed to maintain only one of those three pillars. It paid the price in a fiercely competitive but ultimately disappointing five-game defeat against the AL East champion Yankees.
The rotation did its part admirably. Orioles starters posted a 2.08 ERA, averaged fully six innings per start (actually a hair more than that), and didn't allow a home run. What was supposed to be the team's weak point was instead a major asset against the league's best offense.
They just, oddly, didn't get enough help. The vaunted O's bullpen, the biggest reason they made it to the playoffs, put up a respectable 3.20 ERA in five games but took two losses in the series. That's after the Orioles were charged with 11 relief losses all season. They had as many in the ALDS as in an average month of regular-season play.
In fact, even the ERA is unfair. Four of those earned runs came in one ugly inning in Game 1, when just about everything went wrong for closer Jim Johnson and the defense behind him. Overall, the O's bullpen was stout even in this series. But with the margins in this series as thin as onion skin, they couldn't afford even the smallest bobble. They made a couple, and it cost them.
And while the Baltimore offense wasn't a juggernaut during the season, it did one thing very well: hitting home runs. The Orioles ranked second in the Majors in homers, so even though they were in the bottom half in on-base percentage and batting average, they managed to score enough runs to win games.
In the Division Series, despite playing in two homer-happy ballparks, they hit three in five games. Their problems getting hits and getting on base continued. But they weren't able to balance it out by getting runs in bunches via the long ball. That's a good way to be kept to 10 runs in five games.
"Their pitchers made good pitches," said star outfielder Adam Jones. "We had good pitches to hit. We fouled them off, missed them or hit them right at guys."
There was also one big factor completely out of the Orioles' control. One 6-foot-7, 290-pound factor. CC Sabathia pitched twice in five games, and he was pretty well untouchable both times. Sabathia came one out short of two complete games, allowed three runs on 12 hits, struck out 16 and walked three.
He was the very definition of an ace. And he was the exemplification of why baseball people have so long maintained that nothing wins in October quite like frontline starting pitching.
"He didn't pitch all five," mused Orioles manager Buck Showalter, "but it certainly felt like it, didn't it? We shouldn't feel like he is picking on us. He's a great pitcher. And we had very few opportunities against him. We had a shot there in the eighth [on Friday], and he took it to another level, if there is such a thing. We knew he is going to be a challenge coming in, but we were willing to roll the dice on a couple of bounces here or there. And it could have gone our way. But he didn't give us much breathing room at all."
It's worth remembering this, though: Despite all of that, the Orioles came extremely close. They weren't blown out even once, Game 1's misleading score notwithstanding, and weren't at all far from winning the series. It wasn't a bad formula, after all. It just came up a little short.
"They are a very good club and they are a very resilient club," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You have a bunch of young kids over there that just play the game the right way and play hard. And you think about it, we played 23 games [regular season and postseason combined], and there were four runs that separated us. It's an accomplishment for both clubs because they never went away. People thought they were going to go away -- they never went away."