The Baltimore Orioles could never have imagined their first home playoff game in 15 years ending with a dismal performance by their most reliable pitcher.
Jim Johnson gave up five runs in the ninth inning, and the Orioles lost to the New York Yankees 7-2 Sunday night in the opener of their AL division series.
Russell Martin hit a tiebreaking homer leading off the ninth, and CC Sabathia came within one out of his first career complete game in the postseason to help the Yankees get the jump in this best-of-five matchup.
With the score 2-all, Martin drove a 2-0 pitch from Johnson into the left-field seats. It was the first of four straight hits off Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves. Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter followed with singles, Ichiro Suzuki drove in a run with a swinging bunt and one out later, Robinson Cano hit a two-run double.
In his seven prior appearances against New York, Johnson allowed one run in seven innings and had three saves. Nick Swisher capped the uprising with a sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter.
"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."
Game 2 is scheduled for Monday night.
The start of the game was delayed by rain for 2 hours, 26 minutes, and that did nothing to lessen the enthusiasm of the 47,841 fans who endured 14 straight losing season while waiting for the Orioles to play a postseason game at Camden Yards.
For eight innings, the sellout crowd was treated to tense duel that typified the competition between two division foes that split 18 games during the regular season and finished two games apart in the standings.
Then came the ninth.
'We're obviously disappointed we couldn't give them a win, but at least we're playing a five-game series instead of a shootout," right fielder Chris Davis said.
Sabathia went 0-2 in three starts against Baltimore during the regular season, but in this one the husky left-hander allowed two runs and eight hits in 8 2-3 innings to improve his lifetime record against the Orioles to 17-4.
"Fastball command was good, worked off that," Sabathia said. "Throwing the ball pretty good getting the corners. Tried to stay out there and make some pitches."
Sabathia is 6-1 with the Yankees in the postseason, 4-0 in the division series. He wasn't perfect, but plenty good enough when it counted — Baltimore left seven on base and went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
"We stayed in as long as we could," Davis said. "We're finding out what playoff baseball is all about. You've got to capitalize on every opportunity that you give yourself and we weren't able to do that."
Then again, it's tough to mount a sustained rally against someone as polished and dominant as Sabathia.
"He just kind of wore us down," Davis said. "You have to tip your hat to him. He held us to two runs and gave them a chance to win in the end."
Orioles starter Jason Hammel allowed two runs, four hits and four walks in 5 2-3 innings. The right-hander underwent knee surgery in July and returned to pitch two games in September before his right knee began to bother him again. After working his way back into form, Hammel donned a knee brace and gave Baltimore a solid 112-pitch outing in his first start in nearly a month.
New York missed an excellent chance to take the lead in the seventh. After Troy Patton walked Martin and Ibanez, Darren O'Day entered and Jeter dropped down a perfect two-strike sacrifice bunt. With the infield drawn in, Suzuki hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Robert Andino, who threw home. Matt Wieters grabbed the ball on the short hop and tagged out Martin. O'Day then struck out Alex Rodriguez.
Neither team got a runner in scoring position again until J.J. Hardy started the Baltimore eighth with a double. He did not advance.
"Being able to get out of that with a tie and give us a chance to get up and score some runs, which we did, was just a big spot," Sabathia said.
Immediately after Orioles fans cheered and waved their orange towels following a first-pitch strike by Hammel to open the game, the Yankees went to work. Jeter hit a leadoff single and Suzuki followed with an RBI double into the gap in left-center. But Suzuki was thrown out trying to steal third, and Hammel settled down by striking out Rodriguez and retiring Cano on a broken-bat fly to right.
Sabathia retired the first six batters he faced without allowing a ball out of the infield, then ran into trouble in the third inning. Davis led off with a single, Lew Ford singled and both runners moved up on a bunt before Nate McLouth bounced a two-run single into right field for a 2-1 lead.
New York promptly tied it in the fourth, but another potential big inning was short-circuited when a runner was thrown out on the basepaths. After Hammel walked two of the first three batters, Mark Teixeira ripped a liner off the right-field scoreboard. The hit brought home a run, but Teixeira — who only recently returned from a strained left calf — was thrown out at second by Davis. That left Swisher at third base with two outs, and after an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Martin hit a fly to center.
Singles by Davis and Andino put runners at the corners with one out in the fifth before McLouth looked at a third strike and Hardy grounded out.
NOTES: Andy Pettitte will bring 42 games of playoff experience into Game 2 on Monday night as the starting pitcher for the Yankees. Orioles rookie Wei-Yin Chen will be making his postseason debut. ... Wieters went 0 for 4 against Sabathia and now is 5 for 28 (.179) lifetime against him. ... In 16 career division series openers, Jeter is batting .448 (26 for 58) and reached base in 15 games. ... Suzuki has at least one hit in 10 of his 11 career postseason games and has reached base in all of them. He's also hit in 20 straight games at Camden Yards, a streak that began in 2008.