Yankees and Orioles Set to Begin ALDS

October 7, 2012 – The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are set to kick off the 2012 ALDS at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as soon as the Baltimore rain gives way to dryer skies in the Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t played in a postseason game in 15 years, and I’m confident that a few extra hours won’t take away from the intensity of the hometown crowd tonight.

Before I began my tenure with the Yankees, I worked for the Baltimore Orioles. As a member of the Orioles media relations department in 2001, I was at Camden Yards for Cal Ripken Jr.’s farewell tour and for his final game, which took place 11 years ago yesterday.

The Orioles posted a paltry 67-95 record during the season I worked for the team. Every game after Ripken announced that the 2001 season would be his last was historic and memorable. But other than that, there wasn’t much to cheer about in Baltimore back then, and until former Yankees skipper Buck Showalter took the reigns in 2011, there still wasn’t much excitement.

That has all changed. The Orioles are back in the postseason, and they are relevant again. Since arriving in Baltimore with the Yankees yesterday, it was clear to me that Baltimore’s fan base, which is one of the most passionate in baseball, is re-energized.

Earlier today, I took a stroll through the ballpark, and I weaved my way through a crowd of people on Eutaw Street, which runs between the famous brick warehouse (that is the backdrop to the field) and the ballpark. Fans generally take their time on Eutaw Street before games, purchasing merchandise and sliced pork sandwiches from [former Orioles’ star] Boog Powell’s barbeque stand.

I’ve never witnessed a crowd on the Eutaw Street as big as the one that was there tonight. It was packed. There were more people in the ballpark hours before this game than at any time during Ripken’s final stretch.

So, while the rain has not made for a fun beginning to the ALDS, I expect this to be one of the more intense playoff series of the postseason. I think it’s great that the Yankees are taking on a division rival for the first time in a postseason series since 2004 (when they lost to the Boston Red Sox in ’04). Even though the Orioles and Yankees don’t have the type of heated rivalry that the Yankees and Red Sox have, they still play each other more frequently than they take on clubs in the other two American League divisions.

Additionally, Baltimore and the Yankees are well matched, and that was evidenced by their record against each other this season — 9-9 with a cumulative score of 92-90 in favor of the Orioles.

That brings me to my to my prediction for the 2012 ALDS. Well, as a member of the Yankees front office, I’m not going to predict who will win the series, but I believe that CC Sabathia will shut down the birds in front of a hostile crowd on this cold night in Baltimore. Sabathia has been on his game for three straight starts, and he is as good as anyone in baseball on the road in October. Anything can happen tonight, but I would be surprised if he falters.

Speaking of clutch starts in October, that may be the defining aspect of Andy Pettitte’s career. The Yankees legend, who has amassed 245 regular season wins along with 19 in the postseason, will take the ball against a young Orioles lineup tomorrow. I believe Pettitte’s experience and calm under pressure will give him the upper hand in Game 2.

As for the Yankees batters, I find it hard to believe that they will struggle the way they did in the 2011 ALDS against Detroit, and here’s why.

Derek Jeter led all of baseball with 216 hits, and he is the most seasoned player in major league baseball today.

Ichiro has gone through a renaissance (batting .350) since joining the Yankees, and with only one postseason berth in 11 major league seasons (prior to his one), he is as motivated as anyone in the game to finally play in the World Series.

Robinson Cano collected 24 hits in his last 39 at-bats of the regular season, and if he remains nearly that hot, he alone will produce runs every night.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira have not been productive in previous postseasons with the Yankees, but based on their overall bodies of work and the law of averages, that is bound to change. It might as well be now — at least for one of them.

When Alex Rodriguez batted .365 with five home runs (three of which tied games in the seventh inning or later) and 18 RBI in the 2009 postseason, he proved he could take on the pressure of October baseball and succeed. He didn’t duplicate that performance in October of 2010 or 2011, but that’s understandable since he carried the Yankees to a title in 2009 like few players ever have.

A-Rod missed a considerable amount of games this season because of a broken bone in his left hand (hit by pitch earlier in the season), and he is as fresh as he’s been heading into any postseason of his life. That bodes well for the powerful righthanded hitter, and I believe he will collect a few more big postseason hits in this series — especially considering that the left field foul pole in Camden Yards is a mere 333 feet from home plate.

Stay tuned to see if the rain stops and if my predictions prove to be accurate. Finally, please continue to read this blog during the postseason, as I will provide commentary on every game.

-Alfred Santasiere III

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