MLB.com Columnist

Paul Hagen

Familiar foes bring plenty of drama to AL WC

Familiar foes bring plenty of drama to AL WC

TORONTO -- It's kind of like two guys who have lived next door to each other for years and years. They get along, but over time, some tension is inevitable. One thinks the other should mow his lawn a little more often and it wouldn't hurt to slap a coat of paint on his house. The second resents that his neighbor parks his beat-up truck at the curb and that his dog barks all night.

When the Orioles and Blue Jays meet Tuesday night at Rogers Centre in the American League Wild Card Game (8 p.m. ET/TBS in United States, Sportsnet (English) and RDS (French) in Canada), it will be the 20th time this year the division rivals have met. A long-ago scout named Chaucer said familiarity breeds contempt. That overstates the case here, but you get the idea.

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If nothing else, it amps up the intensity of a game that by its very nature -- one game to determine who advances to the AL Division Series and whose season will have the plug pulled -- is already filled to the brim with drama.

"There are really no secrets," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.

"There are no secrets," said Orioles starter Chris Tillman.

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Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said playing in one game with an entire season on the line in 2012 was an "amazing" experience. "They made it like the NCAA Tournament," he added. "One and done. Win or go home."

Besides, while it may not have the same profile as Yankees vs. Red Sox, there's been multiple occasions in recent years when games between the Blue Jays and Orioles have gotten a little chippy.

Marcus Stroman, who will start for Toronto, was fined and suspended six games in September 2014 for throwing behind the head of Baltimore hitter Caleb Joseph. Orioles manager Buck Showalter called the pitch and the pitcher's reaction "borderline professionally embarrassing."

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Orioles reliever Darren O'Day hit Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista with a pitch that was widely viewed as retaliation for Stroman plunking Joseph, but the two had a history before that.

They've had a running feud since June 2013 when O'Day hollered at Bautista after striking him out. Bautista homered off O'Day in the next game and mimicked talking with his hands before he crossed the plate.

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Early last season, after O'Day came up and in on him, Bautista responded with a home run. Ten days later, O's reliever Jason Garcia threw a pitch behind Bautista's head. Two pitches later, Bautista responded with yet another homer, flipping his bat and trotting slowly around the bases. First baseman Steve Pearce and second baseman Ryan Flaherty had words for him as he ran by; later Bautista got into it with Jones and the entire Orioles bench.

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In the same game, Bautista, still upset, tried to throw out Delmon Young at first on a soft single to right ... and aggravated a shoulder injury in the process.

"These two teams bring a lot of emotions," said Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro. "A game like [this] really brings that out. You can expect a lot of everything. It's one game and you're one swing away, one play away, one ball away and one strike away from doing something big. These two teams have been battling for a long, long time and this is going to be another battle."

Added second baseman Devon Travis: "I'm very excited. These are two teams that know each other so well. Battling all season, you know what each team brings. It's going to be fun."

Tillman on Wild Card Game

As if that wasn't enough, these clubs come into this game from very different directions. Not much was expected of the Orioles this season. But they confounded the experts by spending 111 days in first place and finishing strong by winning seven of their last nine.

The Blue Jays, by contrast, had a two-game lead and an 89-73 record as of Aug. 31, but went 13-16 the rest of the way. "We were rolling until the month of September," Gibbons said. "It wasn't easy. But that's over, you know?"

Both teams had to wait until the final day of the regular season to clinch their playoff spots. The Blue Jays held the slightest edge, 10-9, in their season series. But the Orioles won two out of three at Rogers Centre just a week ago.

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"It doesn't matter. That was last week," said Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. "This is a whole different ballgame. At the end of the day, this is what matters. This is what we play for. We've got 27 outs to do business. We're looking forward to it. We know what we've got to do."

"Obviously, you don't want to have your back against the wall the last part of the season," said Orioles closer Zach Britton. "But we did. Now we have an opportunity to play this tough team that we played a lot during the regular season. So I think that kind of helps. We're very familiar with this team. We've been to this stadium when it's sold out many times, so I think maybe that gives us a little bit of comfort coming in, knowing what to expect."

Yes, the Orioles and Blue Jays know each other well. Maybe a little too well, at times. But that only adds spice to a matchup that was plenty steamy to begin with.

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.