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'Seattle connection' dooms Showalter once again

Orioles fall to Yankees in thrilling ALDS, but Birds expect to be back in 2013
10/12/2012 9:08 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

In 2012, Buck Showalter led the Orioles to their first playoff berth since 1997.(AP)
The last time Buck Showalter was in the American League Division Series, his 1995 Yankees squad suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, who came back from an 0-2 series deficit – and 5-4 deficit in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 5 – to win the series.

Seventeen years is a long time, but in the end of the 2012 ALDS against the Yankees, it was once again a Seattle connection that doomed Showalter and his upstart Orioles.

This year’s epic ALDS battle will be remembered for back-to-back extra-inning games, a multitude of great pitching…and the timely hitting of Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez, two former Mariners who now call The Bronx home.

Ichiro was just 5-for-23 over in the ALDS, but his two RBI in Game 1 kept the Yankees afloat, and his lone hit in Game 5 was a sixth-inning RBI double that plated Derek Jeter with what ended up being the series-clinching run.

Those heroics aside, Ichiro might not have even found himself in that situation if it wasn’t for another former-turned-again teammate in Raul Ibanez, who played in Seattle from 1996-2000 and then again from 2004-08.

Ibanez was of course the ultimate hero in Game 3, hitting a game-tying pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning before launching the game-winning homer in the 12th, and it was his fifth-inning RBI single that got the Bombers on the board off Jason Hammel in Game 5.

Add in the fact that the biggest off-the-field story of the series – Joe Girardi’s move to take Alex Rodriguez out of the starting lineup for the deciding Game 5 – also involved a former Mariner, and it’s safe to say that the ghosts of Seattle certainly snake-bit Showalter one more time in 2012.

“I congratulate the Yankees. They are a great team, and I wish them well in the next round. And that was a challenge competing against them, we just couldn't quite get over the hump,” Showalter said shortly after Game 5 concluded. “Sabathia was great today. And I thought Hammel…you see things like Jeter's foot, Teixeira's leg, Hammel's leg…three weeks ago, we didn't know if he would pitch until next spring. To the trainers, the jobs they do and the players obviously worked. And our trainers, the job they did to get Hammel out there and give us a chance to win both times against the Yankees, that’s a very talented group.”

Showalter had a couple of Seattle expats on his own side as well, but the most notable, center fielder Adam Jones, was held in check by the Yankees pitching staff – going 2-for-23 with six strikeouts in the ALDS (and 2-for-26 with seven K’s in the postseason overall) after posting a .287-32-82 line in the regular season.

“We all know that Matt (Wieters) and Jonesy, we would be spectating from a long way away starting probably around sometime in August if it wasn't for the type of plays they made,” Showalter said. “Neither of these guys wallow around in self-pity; they get frustrated for the right reasons, because they want to contribute. I don't get frustrated with them, I get frustrated for them because we know how good they are. And we're very, very lucky in Baltimore to have those two young men.”

But now, after a 93-win season, 23 battles with the Yankees, a victory in the first-ever AL Wild Card Playoff, and 52 epic innings of ALDS baseball, Buck and his Orioles are headed home for the winter to wonder what could have been. Still, with the way they flew in 2012, there’s no doubt that the Orioles could very well be back in the Bronx next October, battling the Yankees with both teams’ postseason lives on the line.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, for one, certainly believes so; moments after Showalter’s post-series press conference wrapped up, Girardi asked Baltimore staffers for a face-to-face meeting with his counterpart; that was obliged, and during their conversation, Girardi heartily shook hands with Showalter and said, “you’ve got a great ball club, and I’m sure we’ll see you again next year.” Showalter never got the chance to avenge his 1995 loss, as he left the Yankees that winter and went on to manage the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks – but if he and the Orioles are truly back in the Bronx, or on any Major League field for that matter, next October, that’s one “Seattle connection” Showalter will be glad to step away from.

“You know, you don't know how many times you are going to pass this way, and, you know, they got a grip on – like a lot of young people, they know they are not bulletproof and we talked way back in spring training in our first meeting, and they bought into each other. And they were good teammates and people that our city and organization can be proud of, and we'll see them again,” Showalter said. “It's been about as much fun as I have had in the Big Leagues watching how they play the game every day, the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore with each other.”

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