BALTIMORE — For eight innings, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles staged a magnificent duel worthy of two division foes that split 18 games during the regular season and finished two games apart in the standings.
Then the Yankees brushed aside the upstart, inexperienced newcomers and crashed a party 15 years in the making.
Russell Martin led off the ninth inning with a tiebreaking home run off Jim Johnson, CC Sabathia turned in a sparkling pitching performance and the Yankees pulled away to a 7-2 victory 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 postseason, 4-0 in the division series.
“I thought he gave us a great performance,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “Didn’t give up a lot of hard hit balls tonight, had a really good changeup tonight, and I thought he used it very effectively.”
“I definitely wasn’t thinking home run,” Martin said. “He left a fastball up and I put good wood on it.”
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.
“I made mistakes,” Johnson said. “I obviously paid for those, and that was location. It wasn’t anything else. Two fastballs that really cost us. Just have to make a better pitch. That’s all it comes down to.”
Game 2 will be played Monday night.
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 seasons while waiting for the Orioles to play a postseason game at Camden Yards.
“We’re obviously disappointed we couldn’t give them a win, but at least we’re playing a five-game series instead of a shootout,” Orioles right fielder Chris Davis said.