Orioles rookie third baseman Manny Machado was a 4-year-old when Baltimore and the New York Yankees last met in the postseason.
In case the kid needs a quick history lesson, lefthander David Wells won a game for Baltimore, Cecil Fielder and Darryl Strawberry homered for the Yankees, and a youngster named Jeffrey Maier stuck his glove in the middle of the whole thing.
The 1996 American League Championship Series was a lifetime ago for many Orioles fans and a rather meaningless event in the development of Machado, now 20 and a key player in Baltimore’s improbable, magnificent 2012 season.
Sixteen years after the Yankees ousted the Orioles from the playoffs and advanced to the World Series, the teams will resume their rivalry Sunday night in Game 1 of the AL Division Series. It will be Baltimore’s first home postseason game since 1997 — when they were managed by current Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
The Orioles spent much of the season chasing New York in the AL East, and now they have an opportunity to get the better of the Yankees in a far more significant scenario. After New York swept a three-game set in Baltimore in April, the Orioles rebounded to forge a split of the 18-game season series.
‘‘We’ve played those guys a lot this year. We know what they’ve got, they know what we’ve got,’’ Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said. ‘‘It’ll come down to a big pitch or a big at-bat.’’
Or, the outcome could be influenced by a fan in pursuit of a souvenir. In the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, Maier stuck his glove over the right-field wall and appeared to rob Tony Tarasco of the chance to catch a deep fly hit by Derek Jeter. Umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run, and the Yankees won in extra innings en route to capturing the series, 4-1.
Jeter and Yankees lefthander Andy Pettitte, who won the decisive fifth game of that series and is expected to start in Game 2 on Monday night, have been to many playoff series since. In this one, they enter as part of a team that went 14-4 down the stretch to finish with the AL’s best record.
And yet, the Yankees open the series on the road.
‘‘That’s the topic of discussion right now but, you know, this is a one year thing and we’re going to have to win some games on the road most likely anyway if we make it to the promised land,’’ Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. ‘‘We’re not going to complain about starting the first two on the road.’’
And the Orioles? Well, they’re delighted to be playing in front of their home fans, but really, they’re just happy to be playing at this time of year — period.
After their abrupt exit from the postseason in 1996, the Orioles returned in 1997. Fourteen straight losing seasons followed before they put together an unimaginable 93-69 record this year under former Yankees manager Buck Showalter. For an encore, Baltimore beat the Texas Rangers and their best pitcher Yu Darvish, 5-1, on Friday night in the one-game, win-or-go-home wild-card round.
Over in the National League, the defending world champion Cardinals, boosted by a botched infield-fly call, eliminated the Braves, in Atlanta, 6-3, to advance to the NLDS. St. Louis will host Game 1 on Sunday afternoon against the surprising Washington Nationals.
The Yankees’ first-game starter will be ace CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA). The big lefthander came into the season 16-2 versus the Orioles and 10-1 in Baltimore, but that was against the old Orioles. This year, he went 0-2 in three starts at Camden Yards.
On Sept. 8, Sabathia yielded five runs and eight hits — including three homers — in 6⅓ innings. That prompted questions about his health, and Sabathia insisted he was fine.
He proved it in his final three starts of the regular season, going 2-0 while allowing four runs and 13 hits in 24 innings.
New York comes in as the favorite, but that means nothing to the Orioles. Getting a fine start from August addition Joe Saunders, Baltimore knocked off the two-time defending AL champs on Friday night in Texas.
In Atlanta on Friday, mayhem in the stands erupted in the eighth inning after a ruling by Sam Holbrook. Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly that dropped safely in left field after a mix up between the shortstop and left fielder, either able to have caught the ball easily. Holbrook ruled the batter out anyway under the infield fly rule.
The fans at Turner Field went nuts, littering the field with beers cups, buckets of popcorn, and anything else they could get their hands on, leading to a scary, 19-minute delay.
This certainly wasn’t the first time the umps have been at the center of a call that might’ve gone a different way with instant replay — though, in this case, Holbrook said he was ‘‘absolutely’’ sure he made the right ruling even after looking at the video.
Adam Wainwright was a glorified spectator last fall, cheering on the Cardinals from the bench as they rose from wild card to World Series champions.
He know it’s a lot more fun being part of the action: In 2006, Wainwright won Game 4, and got the save in the series-clinching Game 5.
Wainwright, a 14-game winner in his first year back from elbow reconstruction, successfully fought against restricting his innings and starts Sunday in the NLDS opener. The Nationals, who led the league with 97 wins despite sitting down Stephen Strasburg in early September after 159⅓ innings, will go with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.
The Nationals have one of the youngest rosters in the majors and won 98 games as they overcame injuries to Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, and Ian Desmond. Johnson is a seasoned hand, though, joining Billy Martin as the lone managers to win division titles with four franchises.
Moving on after the departure of Albert Pujols in free agency, the Cardinals have one of the league’s most dangerous lineups with five 20-homer players for the first time in franchise history.
The pitching staff was even better. Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86) had a career year heading into free agency, Lynn (18-7, 3.78) was an All-Star during his first year in the rotation.
In the bullpen, Jason Motte tied for the league lead with 42 saves. He was the first closer in franchise history to get all of the team’s saves.