NEW YORK -- The Orioles were in a save situation in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Thursday night, and they gave the ball back to closer Jim Johnson.
Johnson, who led the Majors with 51 saves, has struggled in the ALDS and was charged with a blown save in Game 3's 3-2, 12-inning loss to the Yankees, which put Baltimore on the brink of elimination. But the right-hander rebounded in Game 4, pitching a perfect 13th inning to close a 2-1 win.
Johnson has allowed two homers -- one of which came in a Game 1 loss in which he allowed five runs (four earned) -- after allowing only three homers the entire regular season as he has struggled to locate his trademark sinker.
"As opposed to who?" manager Buck Showalter said of the prospect of not using Johnson in a save situation. "You know what people don't realize is how hard it is to pitch to the next hitter, which ended up being [Robinson] Cano, and then pitch the next inning."
Showalter, who said he preferred to dwell on Johnson's clean 10th inning on Wednesday and homers from rookies Manny Machado and Ryan Flaherty, said his closer is "very" available for Thursday's game.
"Jimmy, will be another one of those where he'll give me that Jim Johnson look and go, 'Really, are you asking me that?,'" Showalter said of his typical pregame talks during batting practice to see how his relievers are feeling.
Strop waits his turn, rewards O's in Game 4 win
NEW YORK -- Orioles reliever Pedro Strop knew what folks were thinking.
"Everybody was asking like, 'Hey, why are you not pitching?'" the righty said after he threw two scoreless innings in Baltimore's 2-1, 13-inning win over the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Thursday. "I was like, 'We're fine. I'm not pitching, but we're fine.' We're winning, and I don't want to pay attention on all the things on why you're not pitching, all that kind of stuff, I just want to be ready for whenever the situation you need me to help the team."
Strop, who's season numbers were strong at 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA, struggled down the stretch. He gave up six runs on 13 hits in 8 1/3 innings in September and October, after pitching brilliantly through July.
On Thursday night in a must-win game for the O's, he turned it around quick in the 11th and 12th innings of a game tied at 1 at Yankee Stadium. The 27-year-old's first career postseason appearance -- and first outing in eight days -- ended with his first career postseason win. He struck out two and walked none.
If the O's are going to go deeper into these playoffs, having Strop back on track makes a big difference.
"I was feeling a lot better," Strop said. "Before, just like the opportunity for me to pitch, it wasn't there yet. ... When the opportunity [arose, I was] ready to give my team the opportunity to win."
The entirety of the O's bullpen was needed on Friday, and Darren O'Day threw 2 2/3 hitless innings before Strop entered. Of all the efforts, though, O'Day, was most impressed with Strop.
"I think Pedro is the stand-up guy, just because he hadn't pitched in over a week and he came out there and every pitch meant the game or the season," O'Day said. "He just attacked the strike zone and he's been the horse he's been all year."
Saunders starts, but Tillman gets taste of limelight
NEW YORK -- Was part of manager Buck Showalter's thought process in going with Joe Saunders over Chris Tillman for Thursday's Game 4 start in the American League Division Series because of how the veteran handled the do-or-die Wild Card start?
"Somewhat," said Showalter, who sent both pitchers to the podium on Wednesday and didn't make a decision public until after the game. "It's a similar game than what [Saunders] pitched in Texas. I know everybody thinks New York has a corner on pressure or whatever, tough place to play. It wasn't easy there, OK? ... I knew if Joe didn't pitch last night that's where we were going, but Tillman, I wanted him to experience that environment, that press conference. Because I think he's got a chance to be one of those guys, maybe the next round."
Saunders, who came to the Orioles from the D-backs in a late-August trade, worked 5 2/3 innings against the Rangers, giving up just one run on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts to keep Baltimore's season alive. He was asked to do that again on Thursday night with the Orioles down, 2-1, in their matchup with the New York Yankees.
Tillman has not started a postseason game and went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts this season, although he hasn't fared particularly well in the Bronx.
"Some of that had to do with his [right] elbow," Showalter said, citing an issue that Tillman dealt with earlier this year. "Chris is going to be a good pitcher in this ballpark. Chris has had a good year for us. And he continues to be an option."
Backs against the wall, O's lean on experience
NEW YORK -- No team ever wants to be on the brink of elimination, but being there before -- and coming out alive -- certainly can't hurt should the situation arise again.
That's where the Orioles stand heading into Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Thursday against the Yankees. It's win or go home, and the 2012 Orioles have experience doing the former.
Major League Baseball's new one-game Wild Card format put the O's in a must-win situation on Friday against the Rangers, when the O's rode a spectacular outing by Joe Saunders -- Thursday's starter -- to an ALDS berth. Baltimore sits in the same predicament tonight, but players have admitted that the experience gained against Texas will help them stay focused.
"I think the only way to become comfortable in those situations is to have experienced it," said O's left fielder Nate McLouth. "And that was kind of weird to have the first game of the playoffs be a do or die game, but that's exactly what it was. I didn't sense any nerves or any apprehension by anybody, especially Joe. He pitched in that situation and did well.
"I think we'll be able to kind of use that mentality to our advantage tonight."
The Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games in the regular season, and prior to Game 3 had won 16 consecutive extra-inning games. Manager Buck Showalter says he isn't exactly thankful for all of the close games his team has played in this season, like most other managers, he'd prefer to be up big, but admitted that its success in such situations will help keep the focus on the task at hand.
"Not once did this club or anybody take it for granted or assume that that's always going to follow to the next night and next night," Showalter said. "And that's why they're able to keep doing it, because they didn't assume and didn't take it for granted. They realized why they did it, they played good defense and made good pitches. And that experience is good because you know they have a feeling why it happened. That's what you draw from it, but it's just a matter of executing that."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. Adam Rosenbloom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.