The night wasn’t without the obligatory nail-biting pitching jams or frustrating men left-on-base situations, but the New York Yankees emerged from Game 1 of the American League Division Series victorious.
For those of you who didn’t make it through the two-and-a-half hour rain delay, there really were no surprises on the Yankee front: CC Sabathia was brilliant, Alex Rodriguez was booed, and the Yankees didn’t break a tie until a home run was employed, although Russell Martin’s solo ninth-inning blast opened the door for a five-run inning.
It was nearly midnight when the Yankee bats finally decided to wake up. Martin’s clutch homer came off Jim Johnson, the Orioles closer, who just enjoyed a 51-save season. “It’s a big lift,” Martin said. “It kind of sparked us…I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and luckily he left a pitch over the middle of the plate for me.”
The other hero of the night was Sabathia. The Yankee ace not only pitched well enough to secure a Game 1 win, but his 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball kept the bullpen fresh for today. From the get-go, CC came out challenging hitters; 80 of his 120 pitches were strikes.
But let’s not celebrate too quickly, Yankee fans. You can bet that the Orioles, who haven’t been in the postseason since 1997, are searching for that glass slipper to cap their Cinderella season. The Yankees haven’t had such an easy time with the O’s, splitting the season series 9-9.
Then there’s Mark Reynolds, who has seven home runs against the Yankees this season and always seems to come up in a clutch situation. Sabathia held him to a lone single yesterday, and keeping him stagnant is crucial for Andy Pettitte tonight. Mixing pitches will be key, as the Orioles have a lot of young free swingers and Pettitte is less than overpowering.
On the surface, Game 2’s pitching matchup appears to be in the Yankees’ favor. Pettitte’s postseason resume includes the most wins in history (19) and the most innings (263). He is also riding a successful September, going 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts since returning from the disabled list.
The O’s are pitting Wei-Yin Chen against Pettitte. The Taiwanese rookie has had mixed success this season, going 12-11 with a 4.02 ERA. However, he is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA against the Yanks this season, and 0-4 in his final six regular-season starts.
Orioles hitters to watch tonight include Adam Jones (6-for-17 career off Pettitte) and Reynolds (2-for-6 with two doubles). The Yankees don’t have too much history against the rookie Chen, but Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano each have three hits off him this season.
But that’s the thing about baseball: anyone can step up and have a great (or awful) night, regardless of history. The Orioles will at least have one thing on their side tonight—the crowd, which Nick Swisher described last night as “rocking.” Many of their fans were in diapers the last time the Birds were in the playoffs. And ALDS history has taught us not to place too much emphasis on Game 1; only about half the time do the winners of the opener take the whole series.
The pressure is definitely on Buck Showalter’s squad tonight. An even series at 1-1 sounds a lot better than down 0-2.
First pitch tonight at 8.