Orioles-Yankees Preview

The Associated Press

The Baltimore Orioles are going to have to again bounce back from a rough effort from closer Jim Johnson - this time to keep alive their season.

The New York Yankees, meanwhile, are dealing with questions of differing natures about stars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

This tightly-contested AL division series continues Thursday night with Game 4 in the Bronx, with the Yankees holding a 2-1 series lead.

Baltimore seemed poised to take its first lead of the series with a 2-1 edge heading into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 3 on Wednesday. But Raul Ibanez's pinch-hit homer off Johnson with one out tied the contest, setting the stage for Ibanez's homer in the 12th off Brian Matusz that gave the Yankees a 3-2 win.

"It was a great experience. We do it as a team. We stay after it,'' Ibanez said. "I'm blessed to come up and have the opportunity like that. We do it together. it's about a team and about winning.''

Johnson allowed five runs in the ninth inning in the Orioles' 7-2 loss in Game 1. Manager Buck Showalter insists he still has faith in his closer, who earned a save with a perfect inning in a 3-2 win in Game 2.

"Jimmy is a big hearted, talented guy, that believe me, we'd be at home watching without people like Jim Johnson," Showalter said. "He's a special guy. We're real proud of him, and you'll see him again tomorrow night, I hope."

Showalter's counterpart, Joe Girardi, was answering as many questions about Ibanez's heroics as he was about the man the lefty-swinging Ibanez replaced at the plate. Rodriguez, who remained at No. 3 in the batting order, is 1 for 12 with seven strikeouts in this series before he was pinch-hit for.

"Sometimes you've got to do what your gut tells you, and my gut told me to make the move," Girardi said. "I still have the utmost respect for Al and I still think he's a great player, he's just going through a little tough time right now."

While Girardi figures to leave Rodriguez in the lineup Thursday against Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders (1-0, 1.59 ERA), the manager is not yet sure that he will be able to pencil in Jeter. The superstar shortstop, who led the majors with 216 hits, exited after eight innings after fouling a ball off his foot.

Jeter, replaced by Jayson Nix, says we will be able to play in Game 4.

"Well, we've seen what he's been able to do in his career and how he's been able to come back," said Girardi about Jeter's status for Thursday. "Just got to keep our fingers crossed."

Rodriguez isn't the only star Yankee faring poorly in the series, with Curtis Granderson 1 for 11 with six strikeouts and Robinson Cano 2 for 12. Ibanez and Russell Martin are the only Yankees to homer.

Baltimore starters have a 1.89 ERA in this series, and Saunders is next in line. He earned the 5-1 victory at Texas in Friday's wild-card playoff game by allowing one run over 5 2-3 innings.

"Joe obviously coming off a real good start in a pressure situation, a game that we had to win, and he'll find himself back in that spot again," Showalter said.

Saunders has not pitched in the Bronx since going 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA in two starts in the 2009 AL championship series with the Angels. Jeter (9 for 18) and Rodriguez (7 for 16) have the highest career averages among Yankees regulars against him.

Girardi will give the start to right-hander Phil Hughes, who went 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA this season but allowed the second-most homers in baseball with 35.

Hughes went 2-2 with a 4.76 ERA in four starts against Baltimore this year, with Mark Reynolds homering twice against him. Three other also Orioles went deep.

"There's not really one guy you can point to and say he may be the toughest at-bat," Hughes said. "They have guys up and down that lineup that can hurt you."

Reynolds dominated the Yankees this season with seven homers and 14 RBIs, but is 3 for 11 in this series. Adam Jones is 2 for 13 in the division series, while Matt Wieters is 1 for 13.

"You trust the track record," Showalter said. "Matt has hit some balls right on the button, Adam put us in a potential position to have a big inning tonight."

Baltimore's bullpen was a big reason why the club had won 16 straight extra-inning games until Wednesday. New York's relievers, meanwhile, have pitched five scoreless innings with no walks in this series.

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