Then the Yankees’ bats finally took over. The Orioles called on their closer, Jim Johnson, in the tie game at home, but that turned out to be the worst move either team made all night. Johnson surrendered a home run to the first batter he saw, Russell Martin, to put the Yankees ahead for the first time since the top of the third inning, and from there the flood gates opened. Raul Ibanez followed the home run with a single, moved to third on a hit and run, and then Eduardo Nunez scored in his place on a perfectly placed swinging bunt by Ichiro Suzuki. To add insult to injury, the Orioles didn’t get any outs on that play. Johnson finally recorded an out by striking out Alex Rodriguez, but Robinson Cano came through with a double to left field that scored both Derek Jeter and Ichiro, then moved to third base on the throw home and scored himself on a Nick Swisher sac fly to push the lead to 7-2.
On the mound, C.C. Sabathia turned in exactly the ace like performance everyone wanted to see from him in the postseason opener. Working efficiently throughout the game, Sabathia was extremely good before allowing that eighth inning double by Hardy. His only real mistake had been hanging a slider to Nate McLouth with runners on second and third in the third inning, giving the Orioles’ left fielder a two RBi single and putting the Orioles up 2-1, though the Yankees would tie the game in the fourth inning.
Other than that, Sabathia was pretty much on cruise control all night, with the exception of Hardy’s double, which he was ultimately able to pitch around. After the Yankees’ big top of the ninth, Joe Girardi even let the big guy go back out to try to earn the complete game, and Sabathia did get two outs in the ninth inning before a Lew Ford double knocked him out of the game. His final line: 8.2 IP, 2 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 7 SO. Pretty sure every Yankees fan would have signed up for that prior to the game. David Robertson relieved Sabathia after the final base hit, and struck out Ryan Flaherty to end the game.
Despite the win, it certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Bombers. Alex Rodriguez went 0-4 with three strikeouts while hitting in the third spot in the order, and the Yankees made three crucial base running errors in the game. The first came in the very first inning when, following an RBI dobule to open the scoring, Ichiro attempted to steal third on the first pitch to A-Rod, getting gunned down by Wieters for his trouble. Then in the fourth inning, Mark Teixeira was gunned down going for second on his single off the wall in right field that plated the tying run for the second out. Finally, Russell Martin got caught running the contact play with the infield drawn in following a seventh inning sacrifice bunt by Derek Jeter. Ichiro hit a fast hooper to second bsaeman Robert Andino, but Martin broke quickly for home and was thrown out by a good ten feet. The Yankees got two men onto lead off that inning when Martin and Ibanez worked walks following a couple of long at bats, yet failed to score a single run anyway. At the time, that felt like it might have been the crucial blown opportunity in the game, but Sabathia’s eighth inning heroics and the offensive fireworks show in the ninth made that moot.
Winning the first game of a postseason series is always a big plus, but in this case it gives the Yankees a big advantage in the early going. Not only do they take a game on the road early in the series, but they’ll also have a clear advantage in the starting pitching match up for Game 2, when Andy Pettitte takes the mound for the Yankees to oppose Wei-Yin Chen. Chen was the Orioles most consistent starter during the season, but he’s faltered over the last month, and has generally appeared to be wearing down physically. It would be a pretty big disappointment if the Yankees didn’t put some runs on the board against him, so their own crafty lefty should hopefully be able to count on some support from his offense as he attempts to send the Bombers back to New York with a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.