Baltimore had waited for this cold, soggy day for 15 years.
With anticipation in the crisp October air, the Orioles played their first home playoff game at Camden Yards in since 1997 on Sunday night, so waiting an extra two hours and 26 minutes really didn’t matter too much.
But Russell Martin’s solo homer off O’s closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning kickstarted a five-run rally for the New York Yankees, who took Game 1 of the American League Division Series, 7-2. Game 2 is tonight at Camden Yards.
Martin took a 2-0, 93 mph sinker from Johnson over left-field fence to lead off the top of the ninth. It was the first home run hit off the majors’ regular-season saves leader since June 5.
Martin also became the first Yankee to hit a go-ahead postseason home run in the ninth inning or later on the road since Roger Maris did it in 1961.
“It's tough,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's just tough going, period. There's not much margin for error. Jimmy has been great for us all year and will be again. Tonight just wasn't his night.”
The Orioles entered the year as 150-to-1 longshots to win the World Series, but on Sunday night, following a two-hour, 26-minute rain delay, a sellout crowd of 47,841 waved orange rally towels and the ritual “O” during the national anthem seemed to be as loud as it’s ever been in the 20-year-old ballpark.
It was about facing the Yankees. It was about a 12-year-old reaching over the right-field at Yankee Stadium. It was about wincing at the sight of Mike Mussina in pinstripes. It was about being forced to watch the big-city Yankees become baseball’s crème de la crème in this blue-collar town while clutching fading faith year after year.
But at the end of the night, it was New York delivering another blow to the Orioles’ fan base.
"It's a big lift,” Martin said of his homer. “It definitely sparked us, it seemed like. We added some insurance runs at the end there. But against a pitcher of that caliber, you're not expecting to hit home runs at the end there. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and luckily, he left a ball over the middle of the plate for me.”
After Martin’s homer, Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter singled. Ichiro Suzuki had an RBI infield hit, and Robinson Cano delivered a two-run double. The fifth run of the inning came on Nick Swisher’s sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter.
"[I] made a mistake, obviously to Martin, and a couple of other mistakes over the middle of the plate,” Johnson said. “We paid for it obviously. It's unfortunate, with the effort we got out of everybody else and I didn't hold up my end of the bargain. I feel confident in our team, and we'll come back tomorrow and give a better performance."
Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was winless in three starts against the Orioles this season, came one out short of a complete game, holding the Orioles to just two runs on eight hits.
The Orioles entered the night hitting .312 against the big lefty, but on Sunday night he threw 25 of 35 first-pitch strikes, working ahead in the count against an aggressive O's lineup.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” right fielder Chris Davis said of Sabathia. “It felt like he got ahead of a lot of our hitters, and obviously staying in the game as long as he did, he kind of wore us down. He held us to two runs and gave them the chance to win it at the end.”
Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel, pitching for just the third time since July 13 after a second half full of battling through a right-knee injury, held the Yankees to two runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings.
Hammel missed eight weeks after arthroscopic surgery to remove loose cartilage in his knee and then hobbled off the mound two starts into his return on Sept. 11, reaggravating his knee and putting his season in question.
He pitched Sunday with a bulky brace on his knee, but battled a patient Yankees lineup with ferocity, surviving several deep counts. He struck out five — all of them coming against the Yankees’ first three hitters in the lineup — and walked four before coming out of the game following his 112th pitch, the most in a start since July 2.
“They’re veteran guys,” Hammel said. “They’ve been around long enough to know the strike zone well. They go up there with a plan. There were a lot of pitches that they took or fouled off."
Nate McLouth gave the Orioles a 2-1 third-inning lead by hitting a first-pitch fastball just past Cano into right field for a two-out, two-run single.
McLouth, whose season included being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates and spending most of the season in Triple-A Norfolk before an August call-up, has driven in four runs in two postseason games.
Outside of that, the Orioles couldn’t muster any offense. They stranded seven baserunners and were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
“We stayed in it as long as we could,” Davis said. “I think we had some opportunities early in the game to push some runs across, but we’re finding out what playoff baseball is all about. You’ve got to capitalize on every opportunity you give yourself, and we weren’t really able to do that.”
The Yankees, who outlasted the surging Orioles to win the American League East in a battle that went down to the final night of the regular season, took a 1-0 lead two batters into the game. Jeter slapped a leadoff single up the middle and scored on Suzuki’s opposite-field double into the left-center field gap on a full count.
The Yankees tied the game, 2-2, in the fourth when Severna Park native Mark Teixeira, the recipient of the loudest chorus of boos from the Camden Yards fans, came to the plate with runners at the corners and hit a RBI single high off the scoreboard in right field.
Hammel issued a pair of walks to place those runners there before Teixeira’s hit, which was fielded off the wall by right fielder Chris Davis, who threw Teixeira out at second on the fly for the second out.
After issuing an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Hammel’s first pitch to Martin — a 92 mph fastball — was high and tight, sending Martin to the ground. Two pitches later, Hammel induced a harmless fly out to center to end the inning.
Reliever Darren O’Day got the Orioles out of a huge jam in the seventh after Troy Patton issued back-to-back walks to Martin and Ibanez to lead off the inning. After Jeter bunted with two strikes to move both runners over, Suzuki hit a grounder to second baseman Robert Andino, who short-hopped a throw home to catcher Matt Wieters, who tagged Martin at the plate for the second out.
O’Day, who stranded 37 of 43 baserunners during the season, then struck out Rodriguez on an 87 mph fastball to end the inning.
Left-hander Brian Matusz, transformed from struggling starter to superb reliever, threw a scoreless eighth, striking out Granderson swinging with a 93 mph high fastball with a runner on first to end the inning.
Sabathia dodged trouble in the eighth after reaching the 100-pitch mark. After allowing a leadoff single to shortstop J.J. Hardy that hugged the right-field line, Sabathia got the next three outs, striking out Adam Jones, getting Wieters to pop up on the first pitch and inducing a ground out to short from Reynolds.
Now, the Orioles face another difficult challenge – as they have all season long – in not letting the series get away from them.
“We are not even supposed to be here, you know,” Reynolds said. “We are going to ride this thing out. They threw their horse tonight. He pitched a great game for them. We had that big hit; we couldn’t push anything across after that. We will come and battle back. That’s been our MO all year.”