Orioles vs. Yankees: Is Game 3 of the ALDS a Must-Win for the Bombers?

Doug RushSenior Analyst IOctober 9, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19:  Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out with runners on base against the Toronto Blue Jays during their game on September 19, 2012 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

In a best-of-five series, I always tend to look at Game 3 as a really pivotal game. On Wednesday night, the ALDS will head to the Bronx at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees and Orioles will continue their series.

Hiroki Kuroda will take the ball for the Yankees, while Miguel Gonzalez will be starting for Baltimore. After the Yankees took Game 1 on Sunday night, 7-2, the Orioles rebounded to take Game 2 Monday, 3-2, tying the series up at 1-1.

As the teams head north, a lot of people have wondered if the Yankees can hang on and survive in the series against the Orioles, or if they are going to be doomed for another first-round exit.

Some people, like myself, have wondered going into Game 3 if it is a must-win for the Yankees. Personally, I think it is, and here's why.

Let's say the Yankees lose Game 3 and fall behind, 2-1, to a Baltimore team that has shown a lot of heart and determination over the season. Even though they aren't as talented as the Yankees, the O's have shown the entire baseball world that they can compete and hang with any team.

If the Yankees head into Thursday night's game down 2-1, facing elimination, do they want to give the ball to Phil Hughes and trust him to save their season?

Of course, Joe Girardi could go with CC Sabathia on short rest and put his ace back on the mound if he has to, but I honestly doubt he wants to do that; he would probably rather save him for a Game 5, if needed.

Last year in the 2011 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees dropped Game 3 and went into Game 4 looking for A.J. Burnett to save their season.

Before the game, I, like many others, thought the Yankees were doomed, as Burnett had been so inconsistent during the year. But Burnett actually surprised a lot of people by pitching well and winning Game 4 to get the series back to Yankee Stadium for Game 5.

Again, do the Yankees want to have Hughes—who is still scheduled to start Game 4—be the savior and put that kind of pressure on him?

This is why I am looking at Wednesday night's Game 3 as a must-win for the Yankees, because it takes a lot of pressure off the team and Joe Girardi. If the Yankees are up 2-1, Girardi has a lot of flexibility to mix and match his lineup. He would likely still go with Hughes and keep Sabathia ready for a Game 5, just in case the series gets that far.

I hate to put pressure on Kuroda, but he is by far pitching in one of the most important games of his career on Wednesday.

Against the Orioles in 2012, Kuroda was 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA in two starts. At home, Kuroda had much better numbers, posting an 11-6 record with a 2.72 ERA. Kuroda finished 2012 with a 16-11 record, which means he was 5-5 on the road.

I like the Yankees' chances with Kuroda on the mound, but how will the offense do against Gonzalez? Against the Yankees, he's 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA this season, which includes a win on Aug. 31 at Yankee Stadium when he pitched seven shutout innings in a 6-1 victory.

Gonzalez has pitched well against the Yankees, and Wednesday night could be another dose similar to what they saw against Wei-Yin Chen in Game 2.

If that is the case, Kuroda has to be on his A-game and can't slip up for a rare bad night. Andy Pettitte didn't have a bad Game 2, allowing three runs in seven innings, but his offense didn't give him the run support needed to win the game.

Game 3 could either give the Yankees the momentum they need to take over the series, or it could put their backs against the wall, just like it did a year ago. Either way, Game 3 is a crucial one that the Yankees need to win.

Stay tuned, Yankees Universe.