Yankees close it out against Orioles’ closer
It has been a characteristic of the Yankees since Mariano Rivera has been with them – especially during postseason play – that they find a way to beat up an opponent’s closer while the opponent seldom, almost never, gets to touch Mo. Be it a Kent Mercker or an Arthur Rhodes or a Trevor Hoffman or an Armando Benitez or a practically anybody, the Yankees never feared the other team’s closer as much as the other guys feared Rivera.
Now the great Rivera is on the sidelines for this postseason, but his mates followed their history Sunday night by mugging Orioles closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning to put up a 5-spot that turned a 2-2 nail biter into a 7-2 laugher in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The Yankees did not even need Mo’s replacement, Rafael Soriano, to get into the game as starter CC Sabathia came within one out of his first career postseason complete game.
Make no mistake; Sabathia played the major role in this victory. The lefthander was hurt by one pitch, a hanging slider that Nate McLouth lined into right field for a two-run single in the third inning. CC was at his best in the eighth after giving up a leadoff double to right by J.J. Hardy. Sabathia got a huge strikeout of Adam Jones, sawed off the bat of Matt Wieters, who fouled out to first baseman Mark Teixeira, and ended the threat by getting a grounder to shortstop by Mark Reynolds, who smacked seven home runs off Yankees pitching during the regular season with CC among the victims.
Frankly, it was the kind of performance that Johnson routinely gave the Orioles all season when the righthander posted a league-leading 51 saves. Big deal, the Yankees might have thought. They have found ways to clobber other closers. Now it was their turn to do it to Johnson. It did not take long, either.
Johnson was stunned early. Russell Martin got ahead in the count 2-0 and zeroed in on a 93-mph fastball and slammed it to left for a home run, the first Johnson had ever yielded to the Yankees. Martin had been one of three Yankees players thrown out on the bases during the game, but he ignited the rally and was the first of five guys to touch the plate in the final inning.
Raul Ibanez followed Martin’s blow with a single. He raced to third on a hit-and-run single to right by Derek Jeter. Yankees manager Joe Girardi made a timely substitution at that point by having Eduardo Nunez, 25, run for Ibanez, 40. Nunez was able to score on a dribbler along the first base line by Ichiro Suzuki that became the Yankees’ fourth straight hit and produced what appeared to be an important insurance run.
But there would be much more insurance to come. Robinson Cano, who finished the regular season on a 24-for-39 (.615) tear but was hitless in his first four at-bats Sunday night, lined a 95-mph heater to the opposite field for a two-run double that knocked Johnson out of the game. An error by Hardy on the play allowed Cano to reach third from where he scored on Nick Swisher’s fly ball to center off Tommy Hunter.
How great was it to see Sabathia come out for the ninth and pitch count be damned? But when Lew Ford doubled with two down, Girardi decided 120 pitchers were enough for Sabathia and David Robertson finished off a game that the Orioles’ closer could not contain.