CC Sabathia, Russell Martin and the New York Yankees crashed a party that was 15 years in the making.
The Chelsea, Que., native Martin led off the ninth inning with a tiebreaking home run off Jim Johnson, Sabathia turned in a sparkling pitching performance and the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-2 Sunday night in the opener of their AL divisional series.
Sabathia allowed two runs and eight hits in 8 2/3 innings to help the Yankees take the edge off the Orioles' first home playoff game since 1997. The husky left-hander went 0-2 in three starts against Baltimore during the regular season, but in this one he returned to form and improved his lifetime record against the Orioles to 17-4.
"Fastball command was good, worked off that," Sabathia said. "Throwing the ball pretty good getting the corners. Tried to stay out there and make some pitches."
Sabathia is 6-1 with the Yankees in the post-season, 4-0 in the division series.
With the score 2-all, Martin drove a 2-0 pitch from Johnson into the left-field seats. It was the first of four straight hits off Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves. Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter followed with singles, Ichiro Suzuki drove in a run with a swinging bunt and one out later, Robinson Cano hit a two-run double.
In his seven prior appearances against New York, Johnson allowed one run in seven innings and had three saves. Nick Swisher capped the five-run ninth with a sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter.
"It's tough. It's just tough going, period," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Jimmy has been great for us all year and will be again. Tonight just wasn't his night."
Game 2 will be played Monday night. Andy Pettitte will bring 42 games of playoff experience as the starting pitcher for the Yankees, while Orioles rookie Wei-Yin Chen will be making his post-season debut.
The start of the game was delayed by rain for 2 hours, 26 minutes, and that did nothing to lessen the enthusiasm of the 47,841 fans who endured 14 straight losing season while waiting for the Orioles to play a post-season game at Camden Yards.
For eight innings, the sellout crowd was treated to tense duel that typified the competition between two division foes that split 18 games during the regular season and finished two games apart in the standings.
Orioles starter Jason Hammel allowed two runs, four hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. The right-hander underwent knee surgery in July and returned to pitch two games in September before his right knee began to bother him again. After working his way back into form, Hammel donned a knee brace and gave Baltimore a solid 112-pitch outing in his first start in nearly a month.
New York missed an excellent chance to take the lead in the seventh. After Troy Patton walked Martin and Ibanez, Darren O'Day entered and Jeter dropped down a perfect two-strike sacrifice bunt. With the infield drawn in, Suzuki hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Robert Andino, who threw home. Matt Wieters grabbed the ball on the short hop and tagged out Martin. O'Day then struck out Alex Rodriguez.
Neither team got a runner in scoring position again until J.J. Hardy started the Baltimore eighth with a double. He did not advance.
Immediately after Orioles fans cheered and waved their orange towels following a first-pitch strike by Hammel to open the game, the Yankees went to work. Jeter hit a leadoff single and Suzuki followed with an RBI double into the gap in left-centre. But Suzuki was thrown out trying to steal third, and Hammel settled down by striking out Rodriguez and retiring Cano on a broken-bat fly to right.
Sabathia retired the first six batters he faced without allowing a ball out of the infield, then ran into trouble in the third inning. Chris Davis led off with a single, Lew Ford singled and both runners moved up on a bunt before Nate McLouth bounced a two-run single into right field for a 2-1 lead.
New York promptly tied it in the fourth, but another potential big inning was short-circuited when a runner was thrown out on the basepaths. After Hammel walked two of the first three batters, Mark Teixeira ripped a liner off the right-field scoreboard. The hit brought home a run, but Teixeira — who only recently returned from a strained left calf — was thrown out at second by Davis. That left Swisher at third base with two outs, and after an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Martin hit a fly to centre.
Singles by Davis and Andino put runners at the corners with one out in the fifth before McLouth looked at a third strike and Hardy grounded out.