BALTIMORE — The Yankees and Orioles were as evenly matched as two clubs can be in the regular season, so it was entirely predictable that they would be tied entering the ninth inning of Game 1 of their AL division series Sunday night.
Somewhat less predictable was that the Yankees suddenly would blow the game open – against one of the premier relievers in the league.
Russell Martin led off the ninth with a tiebreaking home run off closer Jim Johnson to begin a five-run inning as the Yankees earned a 7-2 victory in front of 47,841 at Camden Yards.
New York's Andy Pettitte will face Wei-Yin Chen tonight in Game 2.
Johnson, who set a club record with 51 saves and posted a 0.36 ERA in the final 26 games, fell behind Martin 2-and-0. Martin – who hit .277 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his last 24 games of the regular season – then sent a 93-mph fastball into the seats in left for his second career postseason home run.
Singles by Raul Ibaņez and Derek Jeter then put runners on first and third with none out, and Ichiro Suzuki beat out a tapper down the first-base line for an RBI single that made it 4-2. Alex Rodriguez struck out, but Robinson Cano (24 for 39 to end the regular season) lined a two-run double down the leftfield line to knock out Johnson and give the Yankees a 6-2 lead. Nick Swisher’s sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter made it 7-2.
CC Sabathia, 0-2 with a 6.38 ERA in three regular-season starts against the Orioles, went 8 2/3 innings, allowing only a two-run single by Nate McLouth in the third.
Jason Hammel, who hadn’t pitched since leaving his Sept. 11 start against Tampa Bay after 3 2/3 innings with a right knee injury, went 52/3 innings. He allowed two runs, four hits and four walks, striking out five.
Jeter, who led the major leagues with 216 hits this season, banged Hammel’s second pitch of the night back up the middle for a single, his major league-record 192nd postseason hit. Ichiro, who hit .322 in 67 games after being acquired by the Yankees July 23, then worked the count full. With Jeter running, Ichiro, in his first playoff at-bat since 2001 with the Mariners, slapped a double into the gap in left-center for a 1-0 lead.
But Ichiro then ran the Yankees out of a potential bigger inning, inexplicably taking off for third with none out and getting thrown out by Matt Wieters. Hammel struck out Rodriguez and retired Cano on a fly to right to end the inning.
“We want our guys to be aggressive,” Joe Girardi said of the Ichiro play during the TBS broadcast. “We don’t want our guys just to sit back.”