The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles needed 162 games to determine an American League East champion, so it's only fitting that their Division Series reached a decisive fifth game.
The Yankees and Orioles will play a winner take all showdown Friday at Yankee Stadium with a trip to the ALCS on the line.
"It's an honor to be in Game 5 with them," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "You knew all along that the road to where we want to try to get is going to have to pass through there and here."
After a crushing extra-inning loss on Wednesday, Baltimore staved off elimination in Game 4 on Thursday, as J.J. Hardy's RBI double in the 13th inning lifted the Orioles to a 2-1 victory.
The hit made a winner of Pedro Strop (1-0), who allowed one hit and struck out two over two scoreless innings of relief.
Nate McLouth hit his first career postseason homer in the win, while Jim Johnson pitched a perfect 13th to record his second save of the series. Johnson, of course, served up a game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 12-inning setback.
David Phelps (0-1) surrendered the deciding run to take the loss.
Robinson Cano knocked in the lone run for New York, which hit 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.
"It's playoff baseball and the games are extremely tight. Usually the difference in these games is one hit. That basically has been the difference," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's been very good pitching. They controlled the bats for the most part, and it's come down to one hit."
Alex Rodriguez continued to struggle and is just 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts in the series. He's not the only one, though, as Curtis Granderson (1-for-16), Cano (2-for-18) and Nick Swisher (2-for-15) have all failed in big spots.
"We're obviously frustrated after having several situations to do some damage," Rodriguez said. "We couldn't get it done tonight. Tomorrow's another day."
The Yankees are shooting for their third trip to the ALCS in the last four years, while Baltimore hasn't advanced past the first round since 1997.
New York should have an edge on Friday with lefty CC Sabathia on the hill. Sabathia was brilliant in his Game 1 win, allowing two runs and eight hits in 8 2/3 innings. He also struck out seven and walked a batter in his third straight win overall.
"It's time to go," Sabathia said late Thursday night. "This is a one-game playoff and this is what we play for. We're here in the Bronx, at home, and like I said, I'll be excited and ready to go."
Sabathia is 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA in 11 playoff starts with New York, but has pitched to a 4.56 ERA in 17 career postseason outings.
Baltimore, meanwhile, will counter with righty Jason Hammel, who also pitched well in Game 1. Hammel did not factor in the decision, but surrendered two runs and four hits with four walks in 5 2/3 innings.
"It's obviously an honor to be the one toeing the slab," said Hammel, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees on Sunday. "But it's been a team effort to get here ... We're very confident that we can go ahead and win one more.
"It is all or nothing, but there's no reason to pressure ourselves anymore. We've done this a million times this year. It seems like we've played these guys to a one run game every time out. It's really nothing new."
This will be his fifth start this season against the Yankees, who have managed just three runs over their last 10 2/3 innings against Hammel.
Showalter may need a big effort from Hammel on Friday, as O's relievers have thrown 11 1/3 innings over past two games.
Including San Francisco and Detroit's wins on Thursday, there have been 18 Division Series Game 5s and 11 have been won by the road team. Six of those 11 wins have come in the AL.
Of the last 13 opening-round series to go to a Game 5, the home team has won only two of those contests
The Yankees know that stat all too well, as they dropped a decisive fifth game at home last year to Detroit. They are also 5-4 all-time in best-of-five Game 5's.
The Tigers, of course, won a Game 5 of their own on Wednesday and will play the winner of Friday's game in Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday.
The Orioles and Yankees are certainly no strangers to one another and in addition to splitting 18 regular season meetings this season, these teams also met in the 1996 ALCS, a series won by New York, but one that was made famous by the Jeffrey Maier catch.
New York won that series in five games.