In the fifth and sixth innings of their final meeting with the Orioles, there were two tense moments. If those moments do not go in favor of the Yankees, they might be spending Friday night discussing a second straight first-round exit from the postseason.
One was the daring move of having Mark Teixeira steal second and the other relied on the judgment of umpires when Nate McLouth hit a long fly ball ruled foul by inches.
Teixeira successfully stole the base, scored on Raul Ibanez’s single and umpires confirmed their initial ruling of McLouth’s fly ball down the right field line as being a foul ball, giving the Yankees a 3-1 victory over the Orioles.
The Yankees advanced to their third ALCS in four years by getting an
outstanding showing from CC Sabathia, who fired a 121-pitch, four-hit complete game.
“It is what I am here for,” Sabathia said. “It is what I play the game for. I guess I should feel a little pressure or something like that, but I don’t. I feel like that every time out. It cane be Game 1, it can be Game 15, it doesn’t matter. I feel like I need to go out and win every time out.”
The Yankees will have a quick turnaround as they face the Tigers Saturday night at Yankee Stadium. The Tigers advanced to their second straight ALCS by getting a four-hitter from Justin Verlander Thursday night in Oakland.
Sabathia had to battle through the eighth inning to get it done. First he struck out Mark Reynolds on a tailing slider and then kept the damage at one despite loading the bases.
He struck Nate McLouth out on a nasty slider and then got shortstop J.J. Hardy on a slow grounder that forced Derek Jeter to charge in and make a clean throw on the run to Teixeira.
Sabathia, who held hitters to a .197 average after the 100-pitch mark during the regular season, finished what he came within an out of doing Sunday. He threw just 10 pitches in the ninth and when he fielded Matt Wieters’ soft groundout, the Yankees polished off the Orioles, winning the series despite hitting .211.
“I talk about CC as being one of those big, strong pitchers that usually gets better as the game goes on,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s who he is and you think about the eighth inning and that’s where we saw the highest velocity all night from him. He has a way of being to step it up when he gets into a jam too.”
Even with Sabathia dominating Oriole hitters most of the game, it came down to the gutsy call by Texieira to steal second base as Ibanez looked at a Jason Hammel curveball for a 1-1 count.
“That was me,” Teixeira said. “We talked about it a little bit yesterday and a little bit today that if the opportunity presented itself, they’re not holding me on. I thought like we needed a little spark. I thought we needed a guy in scoring position and I took a chance.
“You talk about trusting your players and their instincts,” Girardi said. “He trusted them and he was right.”
With the Orioles not holding him on, Teixeira sped off to the best of his ability. Matt Wieters was able to make a good throw but Teixeira’s foot just beat the tag, giving the first baseman his first career postseason stolen base.
“I feel like just everything’s magnified when you get to this stage,” Russell Martin said. “It could be a play on defense or a baserunning play. Everything matters at this point. Every run you get is important and Tex [made] a smart, heads-up play. He took advantage of the fact that they weren’t holding him on, got a little walking lead and that was a huge play.”
More importantly, it represented the Yankees’ first opportunity with runners in scoring opportunity. The Yankees were playing Game 5 because they were hitless in nine of those opportunities over 13 innings the night before.
In Game 4, the responsibility of getting Teixeira home would have fallen on Alex Rodriguez’s shoulders. Instead, Rodriguez was not in the lineup and replaced by Ibanez.
Ibanez took care of getting Teixeira in when he hit a full count slider up the middle as Teixeira raced home, giving the Yankees their first lead of the series before the seventh inning.
“Awesome, that was a huge stolen base, huge,” Ibanez said. “He went for it. He got the pitch to do [it]. He had a great read and got in scoring position and it turned out to be a huge thing.”
They still had to hold it and quickly they almost found themselves in a tie ballgame. McLouth hit a 3-1 fastball down the right field line. It was instantly ruled foul by umpires but replays indicated it was very close and Orioles manager Buck Showalter called for a replay. They upheld the foul call and McLouth struck out on the next pitch.
“From where I was standing, I didn’t really know,” Sabathia said. “And whether he was coming back up or Hardy was coming back up, I was thinking of the next pitch.”
“They didn’t tell me, you know, they said it was foul,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “And I appreciate them checking and there is something in place to double check. I couldn’t tell. I knew it was real close and obviously during the regular season or in the playoffs we would have had it checked.”
“I saw it go to the right of the pole,” right-field umpire Fielden Culbreth said. “There is netting there and it didn’t touch the netting. It did not change direction.
“We saw the same thing on the replay,” crew chief Brian Gorman added. “There was no evidence to overturn the decision.”
Even if McLouth’s ball had been ruled a home run, the Yankees still might have won because unlike last night they got a second run. Ichiro roped a double to center field in the sixth and scored Derek Jeter from first base.
Curtis Granderson added a solo home run with one out in the seventh.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.