MLB Playoffs 2012: Nationals, Orioles both set for decisive Game 5 match-ups

Jayson Werth and J.J. Hardy were the heroes for the Nats and O's on Thursday night. Photo: Associated Press

In the course of baseball history, perhaps never before has our region of the country had every set of the sport's eyes on it.

But Friday, Oct. 12 is bound to go down, positively or negatively, as the biggest day in the Baltimore/Washington area's hardball history. There's no dodging it.

For roughly seven hours (or more - who's to say?) on Friday starting at 5:07 p.m., the I-95 corridor will be electrified by two win-or-go-home games; two match-ups that can either send two fan bases, one awash in red and one soaked in orange, into either a wild frenzy of celebration or communal lamentations of "wait 'til next year."

NATIONALS: Jayson Werth's walkoff dinger forces Game 5

The line between joy and heartbreak in our national pastime is so razor thin. For the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, who both stared the end of their season in the face on Thursday and spat, they get to toe that magnificent, heartrending boundary once again.

Along with the Nationals and Orioles come two fan bases, long immersed in the throes of cellar-dwelling baseball, sapping up every bit of success and limelight that their beloved clubs have garnered this season. Who's to say, though, that either group of supporters even has anything emotionally left after both teams took their frayed nerves to the wire in Game 4?

Actually, scratch that. With the way both games ended last night - one with a walk-off homerun and another in a 13-inning instant classic - the adrenaline in Baltimore and Washington is at a fever pitch.

ORIOLES: Baltimore stays alive in tight 2-1 13-inning win

Game 4 between the Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals was a classic; a duel between a defending champion and an up-and-coming squad that came down to the wire.

The 10 miles square hung on every last foul ball that Jayson Werth slapped in the bottom of the 9th. Breath was held throughout Nationals Park as Werth and Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn battled.

For 13 pitches, the stare down continued. A looking strike. Another looking strike. Two balls. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul Foul. A third ball to make it a full count. Foul.

Then, finally, one mammoth connection. There's a seminal moment at any ballpark just before a home run ball clears the fence - a split-second of silence as the home fans rev up their lungs to shout.

As Werth's walk-off home run sailed into the left field bullpen, that shout shook the District of Columbia to the core. Game over. Season saved.

Meanwhile, more than 200 miles up the freeway in the city that never sleeps, the Orioles and New York Yankees were engaged in an epic battle as well.

One night removed from the heartbreaks of heartbreak - Raul Ibanez coming off the bench to hit game-tying and game-winning home runs for the Bronx Bombers - the scrappy O's fought valiantly to save the season that made the Charm City fall back in love with baseball for the first time in a decade and a half.

A 1-1 tie stretched from the 7th inning into extras as Baltimore tried to stave off elimination. Bullpen heroes like Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day kept the powerful Yankees at bay as the night got deeper.

Finally, in the top of the 13th, it was two guys that have endeared themselves to Baltimore fans - Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy - who came through in the clutch. Machado, the precocious rookie who burst onto the scene late in the year, led of the inning with a crushing double, and two batters later, Hardy drove him home.

Baltimore was alive again. When Jim Johnson came in to close it out just a day after Ibanez tagged him for the game-tying homer in Game 3, he looked as if nothing could flap him. Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Endy Chavez went down in order, and just like that, we had a Game 5.

Orioles/Yankees gets started at 5:07 p.m. in New York. Cardinals/Nationals begins at 8:37 p.m. at Nationals Park. Winners get the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants. Losers go home for the winter.

Once this night is over, one of the most memorable nights in Mid-Atlantic baseball history will have been cemented. And whether your team wins or loses, you'll be a part of history.