It was supposed to be their strength.
The Orioles' bullpen got them to the AL wild-card game, and got them to their first playoff appearance in 15 years. Now, it's got them one game from elimination after Raul Ibañez rocked them for home runs in the ninth and 12th innings to give the Yankees a 3-2 come-from-behind victory in Game 3 of the ALDS.
It was the most improbable of collapses as the Orioles had been 76-0 in the regular season when leading after seven innings. Wednesday night they were two outs away from taking control of the series. On the mound was Jim Johnson, who had converted a big-league high 51 saves. Then Joe Girardi stunned everyone in the Stadium, including the Orioles, by sending Ibañez to the plate for struggling star Alex Rodriguez, who is 1-for-12 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts.
"Yes, it was [a shock] to see him come in for half a billionaire," Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones said. "It was the right move. For them. We would have loved to see Rodriguez. But it doesn't matter who we face. We have confidence in our closers."
Ibañez tied it when he drove Johnson's fastball into the lower deck in right. Three innings later, he did it again, homering off Brian Matusz to lead off the 12th.
The Orioles players were clearly stunned after the game, as if they could not quite process what had just happened. Rookie starter Miguel Gonzalez, who had given up just one run and struck out eight in seven innings, looked shell-shocked as he talk to reporters.
"It breaks your heart," he said of the loss. "It was a tough game for us tonight, but we're going to come out tomorrow and play a better game."
It was the second tough ninth inning of the series for Johnson, who gave up a homer and five runs -- four earned -- in the Yankees' Game 1 win. Johnson bounced back from his Game 1 fiasco to pitch well in Game 2. And he says he will have to do the same thing Thursday night.
"He put a good swing on it," Johnson said. "It's all me not executing the pitch. I haven't pitched to what I've been doing the rest of the year. I have to step up and help the team, because I can't lose sleep over it. I just have to forget about it."
Matusz seemed to be having a tougher time moving on. Said Matusz: "I made a bad pitch . . . I just left the pitch up. I missed my location and he made it hurt."
Boy did he ever.