Orioles may be in Yankees' heads

NEW YORK -- In one nook of the New York Yankees' Game 2 losing clubhouse, Alex Rodriguez lamented Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson firing a "cement ball." In another, a smiling Nick Swisher sounded a bit exasperated that lefty reliever Brian Matusz owns him.

The season series between the Yankees and Orioles is now a best of three, winner takes all.

So far this year, it is 10 wins for the Yankees and 10 for the Orioles. It is 99 runs for the Yankees, and 97 for the Orioles.

Buck Showalter's magical Orioles are like gnats the big, bad Yankees can't swat away, and they are shaking their heads into Game 3.

How is it even possible that Baltimore can hang with the Yankees for one night, let alone 164? The Yankees are filled with future Hall of Famers, while Showalter picks a starter each game that most of America has never heard of.

Miguel Gonzalez, anyone? He is starting Game 3 at the Stadium and there is reason for the Orioles to be confident in him.

Coming home, the Yankees would seem to have some advantages until you look closer at the numbers. This year, the scared-of-nothing Orioles were 6-3 in the Bronx.

Over the past decade, four times the Yankees have begun a division series with a win in Game 1 and went on to lose the series.

The 2012 Orioles are trying to join the '06 and '11 Tigers and the '02 and '05 Angels as feisty teams that ended the Yankees' $200 million dreams.

Going just by looks, the Yankees' lineup should dominate. Regardless of where you stand on the "To drop A-Rod in the order or not to?" debate, their eighth-place hitter for Game 2, Curtis Granderson, hit 43 homers in the regular season. The Orioles didn't have a batter who hit even .290 for the year.

But here they are, hanging with the Yankees, sending the barely known Gonzalez to the mound. The Yankees have seen him only twice and both times they lost.

Granderson, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano are a combined 0-for-21 versus the 28-year-old rookie, whom the Orioles discovered out of the Mexican leagues.

While the Yankees should be reasonably confident with Hiroki Kuroda on the mound in Game 3, the inconsistent Phil Hughes is scheduled for Game 4.

The Yankees know that they are a more talented and accomplished team -- and maybe talent will win out.

But the Yankees have never been able to separate themselves from Baltimore all season. It took them until the final regular-season game to win the AL East.

Now, you wonder if the Yankees could tighten up, while the nothing-to-lose Orioles play free and easy. Swisher and A-Rod are guys who have become lightning rods this time of year -- and, trust me, they know it.

Rodriguez is not a guy who can totally drown out the noise around him. He knows the Yankee Universe is screaming for his head after five strikeouts in nine-at-bats and just one hit. He hasn't hit a homer in nearly a month, spanning 77 at-bats. And he realizes Johnson is waiting for him at the end of games.

"He is throwing a big-time cement ball that is moving all over the place," said the 37-year-old Rodriguez, sounding a little defeated, after Johnson made him the first player ever to have four playoff game-ending strikeouts.

Swisher, too, is very aware of his October struggles. Swisher really wants to remain a Yankee, but also wants to be paid what he's worth. That is why these could be his final at-bats for his beloved Bleacher Creatures.

Matusz will be waiting for him. Swisher knows he has only one hit in 20 at-bats against him.

"I've struggled against Matusz," Swisher said.

He has had his problems in the clutch, which made him declare that he might "pull an A-Rod," referring to Rodriguez's spectacular 2009 postseason. Instead, Swisher is now 1-for-33 with runners in scoring position in the playoffs.

Still, this is more than just about A-Rod and Swisher, even if they may become the faces of the defeat. The Orioles and October might be in the Yankees' heads.

The Yankees are better in almost very tangible way. They really should win this series. But that hasn't mattered for much against Buck's Boys. The Yankees seem to know this. That is why it is a scary time in the Bronx.