It’s hard to imagine a better start to a playoff series than this. But when you incorporate the way in which the New York Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 7-2, on Sunday to claim Game 1 of their best-of-five American League division series, you may wonder exactly how much better this October could get for the Bronx Bombers.
For eight innings, the Yanks and Baltimore Orioles staged a duel worthy of two division foes that split 18 games during the regular season and finished two games apart in the standings. New York relied on their championship pedigree to finish off the inexperienced Orioles late to rain down on their 15 years in the making party.
The Yankees were powered by their batterymen, starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia and catcher Russell Martin, who combined to deliver a one-two punch that knocked the Orioles out of Game 1. Sabathia turned in a masterful performance befitting his role as ace, pitching eight and two-thirds commanding innings, stranding runners at first and third base in the fifth inning, first and second in the sixth, and finally left Baltimore’s shortstop J.J. Hardy at second base in the eighth after his leadoff double put the husky left-hander in a threatening situation at Camden Yards.
Martin, the catcher, shepherded Sabathia through his brilliant outing, putting on a defensive clinic long before he settled things with his bat. The pitcher and catcher executed a near-flawless game plan on the defensive side of the ball before Martin went yard off of the Orioles indestructible closer Jim Johnson, who had gone 51-for-54 in save opportunities during the regular season and hadn’t been taken deep since June 5. At the top of the ninth inning, the Canadian-born catcher broke the games 2-2 tie when he lifted Johnson’s 94-mile-per-hour fastball into the left-field stands. Martin delivered 21 homeruns during the regular season, but even the most dramatic homer never felt anything like this. His shot set off a five-run ninth, and made the catcher a Yankees’ postseason hero for the first time in his career.
The Yankees poured it on after Martin’s homer. Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter followed with singles, Ichiro Suzuki knocked in a run with a single in front of the plate, Robinson Cano –who went from hottest hitter in the game a week ago to ice cold at the start of Game 1 going 0-3 at the plate– clobbered a two-run double and Nick Swisher capped the five-run inning with a sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter to extend the Bombers lead to 7-2. Still the night belong to the Bombers batterymen, Sabathia and Martin. Sabathia, who had already thrown 110 pitches, checked back into the game at the bottom of the ninth inning to atone his 0-2 record, in three starts, against Baltimore during the regular season, to improve his lifetime record against the Orioles to 17-4.
Sabathia is 6-1 with the Yankees in the postseason and 4-0 in the division series. His Game 1 performance positions the Yanks to take a commanding lead in Game 2 and potentially a joy ride through the postseason and into the World Series, as their bullpen is fully rested. Only David Robertson was forced to work Sunday night, and to only one batter, a game-ending strikeout of pinch hitter Ryan Flaherty. New York heads into Monday night’s game with seven fresh arms to back up Andy Pettitte, who is the winningest postseason pitcher in the history of baseball. If C.C. continues to throw heaters like he did in Game 1, with a rested bullpen to back him up, this could very well be another October to remember for the Bombers.