- Last Updated: 12:38 AM, October 8, 2012
- Posted: 12:34 AM, October 8, 2012
BALTIMORE – Here were the Orioles, with the Yankees exactly where they wanted. Baltimore had dragged this game into the late innings. The time of year it has dominated, in part because of a bullpen that has been pretty much impenetrable.
But this was not a battle of the bullpens yet on the Yankee side. That is because they were still riding their horse of a starter. That is because Carsten Charles Sabathia was doing his best work to make sure that a regular season motif would continue into the postseason – that the Yanks would continue to find a way to stay in front of the Orioles no matter how persistently and gallantly Baltimore kept chasing.
The Yanks and Orioles spent the last five weeks of the season in a neck-and-neck battle for the AL East title. But Baltimore never nudged ahead alone. Not even for a day. And now the Yankees are ahead again, this time in the Division Series.
They won the opener 7-2. But don’t let the final score fool you. The Yanks scored five runs in the ninth inning to break a tie. However, it was only a tie due to the work of Sabathia for eight innings – particularly in the eighth.
The Yanks had played squander ball on offense yet again, this time mixing dubious baserunning with ineffectiveness hitting with men on base. Ichiro Suzuki was thrown out trying to steal third with no out in the first and the Yanks already up 1-0. Mark Teixeira tied the score 2-2 in the fourth with a drive off the right-field wall, but was thrown out trying to stretch by a good distance, though the play was right in front of him.
Thus, the score was 2-2 going to the bottom of the eighth and J.J. Hardy lashed a leadoff double into right field corner. The go-ahead run for this game and this series was now 180 feet away with the 3-4-5 in Baltimore’s lineup due. The 47,841 at Camden Yards, enjoying the first playoff game in this building in 15 years, were in an orange-and-black frenzy of noise and expectation.
Sabathia was unflappable, refusing to give into the moment or the heart of the Oriole lineup. He struck out Adam Jones, popped up Matt Wieters and induced Yankee killer Mark Reynolds into an inning-ending grounder to short. He threw up his left arm in triumph and then the Yankees beat up on Baltimore closer Jim Johnson. Russell Martin, a big-hit figure this year, homered to open the inning and the floodgates.
And with 110 pitches Sabathia went out to finish what he started. It was not until he gave up a two-out double to Lew Ford in the ninth that he was pulled, one shy of throwing the Yankees’ first playoff complete game since Roger Clemens’ one-hit, 15-strikeout gem against Alex Rodriguez’s Mariners in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS. Sabathia was not as dominant Sunday. But his effort was large and significant.
First, it confirmed that his season-ending excellence was not just about facing bad teams at the right time. Second, it ended a period of some iffy postseason work by Sabathia in the last two years. Third, it rested the bullpen further for some other Yankee starters who might need it. Fourth, it was central to chiseling through the Baltimore 2012 mystique of dominating the late innings. And, fifth, and most important, it gave the Yankees a quick leg up in this series.
What it could mean for the length of the postseason also cannot be overstated. The Yankees won in 2009 for many reasons. But right there as big as anything was that Sabathia pitched brilliantly in his five starts, going 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA, working on short rest, the Yankees winning four of his starts. This is why he was brought to New York, to anchor champions.
So this was an important first step for Sabathia and the Yankees toward where they want to go, which as always is the Canyon of Heroes. Sabathia threw 120 pitches of grit at the Orioles yesterday with little margin of error for the first eight innings. And in the eighth inning, he had to do the baseball version of a goal line stand. He kept Baltimore off the scoreboard – and out fo the win column.
He was an ace and just like the regular season the Orioles could not figure out a way to get ahead of the Yankees.Follow @NYPostsports