Yankees, Cardinals win division series
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."
Cards 9, Nationals 7
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals finally brought winning baseball back to the nation's capital. They also collapsed in the postseason in a way that will be tough to live down.
The Nationals' historic season came to an end Friday night with a 9-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL division series. Washington sported the best record in baseball during the regular season, but the newfangled "Natitude" of a roster flush with young postseason neophytes blew a six-run lead against the experienced club that won the World Series a year ago.
Closer Drew Storen took the mound with a two-run lead in the ninth and gave up four runs, allowing two-run singles to Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. Storen had the Cardinals down to their last strike with two outs, but he walked Yadier Molina and David Freese.
"We had it right there, and the most disappointing thing I'll say is that I just let these guys down," Storen said. "I know there's an unbelievable crowd and unbelievable support, but for the amount of adversity we dealt with this year, for it to come down to that was kind of tough."
It was the largest comeback ever in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS LLC. No other club in this sort of ultimate pressure situation had come back from more than four runs down.
Storen threw five pitches with two strikes and two outs in the ninth. All were balls.
"I think he just tried to be too fine," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's got a great-moving fastball. Just need to throw it over."
Storen said he had no problems with the umpire's strike zone. The Cardinals were just disciplined at the plate when it counted.
"I made good pitches," he said. "I wouldn't change a thing. I have no regrets."
The Nationals had been let down by their bats in the first four games of the series, scoring only nine runs. But they greeted Adam Wainwright with a double, triple and homer by Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning and chased the St. Louis starter with home runs by Harper and Michael Morse in the third.
The Cardinals battled back, cutting into the 6-0 deficit with a run in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh and one in the eighth. Descalso's solo homer in the eighth off Tyler Clippard made it a one-run game, but the Nationals pulled back ahead by two in the bottom of the inning on Kurt Suzuki's RBI single.
But Storen, who regained the closer's job late in the season after Clippard struggled, couldn't finish the job. The season of Natitude was over.
In the clubhouse afterward, part-owner Mark Lerner patted players on the shoulder and shook their hands. He wiped a tear from his eye as he spoke to Morse.
"Someone just said to me, `We've learned to win now,'" Lerner said. "And that's no easy task."
At least the series gave the local faithful an uplifting moment no one will forget anytime soon: Werth's bottom-of-the-ninth homer on the 13th pitch of an at-bat that gave the Nationals a 2-1 Game 4 win and guaranteed the season would last one more day.
And the way the team is built, a winning postseason team shouldn't be far behind.
Washington lost baseball when the Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season and didn't get it back until the Expos moved to D.C. in 2005. The team they got needed some work, finishing last in the NL East in five of its first six years while new owners were found, a stadium was built and a farm system was rebuilt.
The 100-loss seasons in 2008 and 2009 were particularly brutal, but at least they put the Nationals in position to take blue-chippers Stephen Strasburg and Harper with the No. 1 overall draft picks in 2009 and 2010.
Built around such youth _ and led by Davey Johnson, the oldest manager in the majors _ this year's 98-win team gave Washington its first postseason experience since 1933.
"It hasn't been done since 1933," said starter Gio Gonzalez, who allowed three runs over five innings. "Look at the positive. We're doing this now in 2012, getting ready for 2013."
This was Washington's first elimination game since the 1925 World Series when the legendary Walter Johnson lost by the same 9-7 score to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Senators held a 6-3 lead in that game.
"We knew that it would be a process that would take a number of years, but in our mind this is the only way to do it," Lerner said before the game. "We had to rebuild, and we didn't want to be a one-year wonder. We had to rebuild that farm system first, and we knew we would get worse before we got better.
"It's funny. Somebody once said to me, `When you look back at years of losing, you just smile, because when it gets to the winning, it's awful sweet.' I think we've reached that stage, and we'll be good for a long, long time to come."
The series will also be remembered for an unanswered what-if quandary. Strasburg didn't pitch in the series because the Nationals opted to shut him down early as a precaution in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Strasburg wasn't happy with the decision, but general manager Mike Rizzo never wavered. Still, the GM and everyone else associated with the franchise will be asked if the outcome would have been different had the staff ace who thrives on big-game pressure been available to pitch Games 1 and 5.
"I'm not going to think about it, no," Rizzo said. "We had a plan in mind, and it was something that we had from the beginning, and I stand by my decision, and we'll take the criticism as it comes. But we have to do what's best for the Washington Nationals, and we think we did."