Results tagged ‘ American League Division Series ’

Joe wins 600th; Andy passes Whitey in Ks

Perhaps the Yankees decided to play Monday night’s game at Target Field as if it were a playoff game. After all, they beat the Twins nine times in 10 games in winning three American League Division Series against Minnesota. Monday night was like many of those playoff games with the Yankees overcoming early deficits with some late-inning lightning.

It was a tight game for seven innings before the Yankees broke through with seven runs over the last two innings against a sloppy Minnesota bullpen for a 10-4 victory, which marked the first time in 48 games that they reached double figures in runs. They had not done that since an 11-6 victory over the Royals May 10 at Kansas City.

It was also the 600th managerial victory for Joe Girardi and was a long time coming following a five-game losing streak that had pushed the Yankees into fourth place in the AL East.

Andy Pettitte overcame a 42-pitch first inning in which he turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit to pitch into the sixth inning and along the way unseat Whitey Ford as the pitcher with the most strikeouts in franchise history. Pettitte’s punchout of Justin Morneau in the fifth, one of only two Ks in the game for the lefthander, was his 1,958th.

Of course, Andy already had more career strikeouts than Whitey. Pettitte had 428 strikeouts in his three seasons with the Astros and has a career total of 2,386, which is 41st on the all-time list, 10 behind Sandy Koufax. With his Yankees total, Pettitte ranks third among pitchers on New York teams in strikeouts behind Tom Seaver’s 2,541 with the Mets and Christy Mathewson’s 2,504 with the Giants.

It was not a strong outing by Pettitte, who allowed six hits and four walks and made a throwing error that accounted for one of the four runs against him. He was removed after giving up a home run to Chris Parmelee leading off the sixth inning that put the Twins ahead, 4-3. The late rallies by the Yankees took Pettitte off the hook, but he remains winless in four starts since June 8.

Robinson Cano, who had driven in the Yankees’ first three runs with two home runs off Twins starter Scott Diamond, ignited the eighth-inning uprising when the Yankees regained the lead for good. He opened the frame with a double to right-center. After a bunt single by Ichiro Suzuki pinch hitting for Vernon Wells, Cano scored from third on an errant pickoff by Jared Burton, who ended up the losing pitcher as his record fell to 1-6.

A one-out single by Zoilo Almonte gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, and they were far from finished. Almonte came around to score after a walk and a wild pitch on an infield out by Chris Stewart. In the ninth, they loaded the bases with none out and pushed across four more runs on RBI singles by Travis Hafner and Almonte, a passed ball and a bases-loaded walk to Stewart.

The 14-hit attack was spearheaded by Cano, who reached base four times and scored each time. He and Almonte each had three hits, and Brett Gardner and Wells added two apiece. After going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position over the first seven innings, the Yankees went 4-for-10 in those situations in the final two innings.

For the first time since the losing streak began, the Yankees had cause to use Mariano Rivera, who in a non-save situation pitched a scoreless ninth, following a shutout inning apiece by pen pals David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain (1-0) and Shawn Kelley.

Yankees take what Orioles give them — in triplicate

So maybe you cannot chew gum and walk at the same time, or in the case of Orioles center fielder Adam Jones blow bubble gum and field at the same time. An error by Jones in the seventh inning Friday night on a ball he appeared to have caught was the critical play in the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over Baltimore that gave them a share of first place in the American League East with the Red Sox, who were rained out.

The three-run rally that resulted in the Yankees’ fourth straight victory was as weird as it can get. They did not have a hit in the inning. Orioles lefthander Troy Patton entered the game after starter Miguel Gonzalez walked Francisco Cervelli to start the inning. After Brett Gardner sacrificed Cervelli to second base, the Orioles decided to walk Kevin Youikilis, who had three hits, intentionally.

Somewhat surprisingly, Yankees manager Joe Girardi allowed lefty-swinging Travis Hafner to bat against Patton, who made a huge gaff by hitting the Yanks’ designated hitter with a 3-2 pitch that filled the bases and brought up Vernon Wells. O’s manager Buck Showalter brought in righthander Pedro Strop, a Yankees punching bag, to pitch to Vernon Wells. The Yanks’ left fielder got good wood on a drive to center. Jones, a Gold Glove winner last year, made a long run to the warning track to catch up with the ball blowing a bubble along the way. For a quick moment it seemed as if Jones had ended the threat, but the ball clanged off his glove for a two-base error that cleared the bags as the Yankees unlocked a 2-2 score.

This was the same Jones who in Game 3 of last year’s American League Division Series blew a bubble with his gum while tracking a drive to right-center by Derek Jeter that fell on the warning track for a run-scoring triple.

The good fortune continued for the Yankees the next inning with their second triple play since 1969. The Orioles got a rally going against CC Sabathia after leadoff singles by Alex Casilla and Nick Markakis. Manny Machado followed with a grounder to second baseman Robinson Cano, who flipped to shortstop Jayson Nix for what looked like the beginning of a double play. But why settle for two outs when you might get three?

Nix thought he had a shot at getting Casilla going to third and threw to that base instead of first. Casilla got in a rundown and was tagged out by Youkilis, the third baseman, who saw that Machado was midway between first and second and gunned the ball to first baseman Lyle Overbay, who ran Machado toward second and then tossed to Cano to complete the 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple killing.

I ran into WCBS Radio voice John Sterling while leaving the yard later, and he told me in making the call on the play said, “Nix turns and throws to third base, why, I’ll never know.”

I must admit that I felt the same way. The Yankees had a sure double play, and you never know what can happen when a fielder throws behind a runner. Nix ended up making an alert play in spite of its unorthodoxy.

The previous triple play turned by the Yankees was April 22, 2010 at Oakland on an around-the-horn job from third baseman Alex Rodriguez to Cano to first baseman Nick Johnson on a ground ball by Kurt Suzuki. That game was a loss by the Yankees. This one might have been, too, except Baltimore did everything but hand it to them.

The Yankees took advantage of all the breaks the Orioles gave them. The players who scored the Yanks’ five runs all reached base without a hit. Orioles pitchers held the Yankees to six hits but walked six batters and hit two.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was brilliant under difficult situations with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees with a 25-miles-per-hour wind. One of the two runs off CC was not earned due to a balk, which the lefthander disputed. That second run for Baltimore that tied the score in the seventh loomed large until the bottom of the inning when Jones’ glove lost its glove and the Yankees tripled their pleasure.

Nunez latest Yankees casualty

The Yankees’ return to Detroit Friday turned out just as negatively as their last visit when the Tigers completed a sweep of the 2012 American League Championship Series. An erratic Ivan Nova failed to last five innings, and the Yankees could not solve Detroit lefthander Drew Smyly, who provided four perfect innings of relief for Doug Fister with five strikeouts.

Prince Fielder did the most damage with a pair of home runs for five RBI. His three-run shot off Boone Logan in the fifth wiped out a 3-2 Yankees lead. Fielder’s two-run blow off Sean Kelley in the seventh opened up a five-run Tigers spread. Kelley had also yielded a solo homer to Alex Avila the previous inning.

The Yankees are hoping to see more of the Ivan Nova of 2011 when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and less of the Ivan Nova of 2012 when his ERA bloated to 5.04 despite a 12-8 record. The Yankees got the Nova who struggled last year. The righthander fell into deep counts throughout his outing and was up to 96 pitches by the time manager Joe Girardi made the move to Logan with two down in the fifth inning.

Andy Pettitte apart, Yankees starting pitcher has been inconsistent. The rotation will make its first full turn with Phil Hughes being activated to start Saturday at Comerica Park. The Yankees originally planned to have David Phelps start at Detroit while Hughes was to make an injury-rehabilitation start at Triple A Scranton.

The Yankees’ offense was limited to a three-run fifth. Fister wild-pitched one run home. The other two runs were courtesy of Kevin Youkilis’ first home run with the Yankees. The former Boston villain has been the Yankees’ hottest hitter in the first week of the season, batting .375 and slugging .688.

The worst news of the day was that Eduardo Nunez had to leave the game after being struck in the right bicep with a pitch in the fourth inning from Fister, who had also hit Brett Gardner with a pitch in the third. Nova plucked Miguel Cabrera, the last batter he faced, in the bottom of the fifth.

Jayson Nix took over at shortstop and is likely to play there again Saturday. X-rays on Nunez were negative, but such a nasty bruise on his throwing arm won’t heal immediately. Shortstop has been the steadiest of positions for the Yankees since Derek Jeter took over as the regular in 1996, but that is not the case now. Jeter, by the way, just began soft tossing in his rehab in the extended spring training and is not expecting back for several weeks, which makes the absence of Nunez critical at this point.

So what happens if Nix should get hurt Saturday and Nunez is unable to throw? Girardi said he would use catcher Francisco Cervelli as an emergency infielder, not that the skipper wants to see that scenario.

It was good to see Brennan Boesch get a nice hand from the sellout crowd of 45,051 while the other Yankees players were booed during pre-game introductions at the Tigers’ home opener. Boesch played the past three seasons for Detroit and was a crowd favorite. He got his first hit with the Yankees, a single in four at-bats, and made a fence-crashing catch in right field to rob Fielder of a potential extra-base hit in the third inning.

Jerry Girardi, 81

The Yankees observed a moment of silence before Thursday night’s Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium in honor of Jerry Girardi, father of Yanks manager Joe Girardi, who died Saturday at the age of 81 at Snyder Village, a residential healthcare provider, in Metamora, Ill. The senior Girardi had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Joe Girardi had not informed the players about his father’s passing until Thursday when word began to spread about the situation. Joe said that he had planned to tell the team at the end of the ALDS and to attend the funeral Monday.

“One of the reasons I didn’t say anything is that I knew talking about it would make it probably even harder,” Joe said before the game. “The one thing that both my Mom and Dad taught me was always finish the job at hand. So my thought process was that my Dad would want me to do everything that we could to go to win the World Series.”

The elder Girardi was born May 5, 1931. He married Angela Perino in 1959 in Tampico, Ill. She died in 1984. The couple had five children: John, George, Maria, Joe and Jerry. Joe’s father was also survived by six grandchildren.

The senior Girardi, who served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War, worked in construction sales for National Gypsum Company and also as a bricklayer. He enjoyed coaching his children’s sports teams, which he did for many years and was also very active at Sacred Heart Grade School and Spalding High School, where he was a president of the Booster Club. He was also a member of St. Monica Catholic Church in East Peoria. Ill.

Visitation will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Deiters Funeral Home and Crematory with a prayer service at 5:45 p.m. There will be an additional brief visitation from 9:30 to 10 a.m. Monday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Peoria immediately prior to the Mass of the Resurrection, which will begin at 10 a.m. Burial will take place at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Tampico, Ill., at 2:30 p.m. Monday.

Memorials may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or to Snyder Village.

Ibanez finished what he did not start

All that concern before Game 3 of the American League Division Series about where Alex Rodriguez was batting in the order obscured the fact that Raul Ibanez was not in the lineup against a right-handed starter. Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to have Eric Chavez play third base and use Rodriguez at designated hitter and keep Ibanez on the bench.

Oh, man, did that hunch pay off for Girardi and the Yankees. Ibanez, who only eight days earlier became the first Yankees player to hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and a walk-off RBI in extra innings in the same game, trumped that Wednesday night. This time, he not only homered to tie the score in the ninth but also in the 12th to win it.

This one will have the Elias Sports Bureau researchers up all night in their Fifth Avenue office trying to determine if what Ibanez did in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory over the Orioles was unprecedented in the history of postseason play. My guess is they will discover that the answer is yes. We already know that Ibanez is the first player to hit two home runs in a postseason game that he did not start.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter had identified Ibanez as a threat off the bench he had hoped to avoid when discussing his late-inning pitching maneuvers in Game 2. Ibanez’s performance in Game 3 justified Showalter’s concern. Ibanez, pinch hitting for A-Rod yet, sent the game into extras with a ninth-inning home run off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, whom the Yankees continue to rough up.

The Yankees mugged Johnson for five runs in the ninth inning of Game 1 at Baltimore in a non-save situation. This time it was a blown save for Johnson, the major-league leader in saves with 51 in the regular season.

Ibanez’s drive into the right field stands off a 1-0 fastball (at 94 miles per hour, no less) took a potential losing decision away from Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, who deserved a better fate after allowing only two runs (on solo homers by Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado, the O’s 8-and 9-hole hitters) in 8 1/3 strong innings. Ibanez was the Yankees’ best pinch hitter this season with a .320 average, two home runs and seven RBI in 25 at-bats and kept that distinction intact with Wednesday night’s feat.

Not even having to face a lefthander, Brian Matusz, fazed Ibanez in the 12th. He didn’t even wait as he swung at the first pitch – a 91-mph cut fastball – and thrust the Yankees into a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-5 series.

Pinch hitting for Rodriguez was a gutty decision for Girardi, although one that could hardly have been second-guessed. A-Rod was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and is 1-for-12 (.083) with seven punchouts in the series. Ibanez is now 3-for-5 (.600) with two home runs in the ALDS.

Girardi looked at Ibanez the way Casey Stengel once did at Johnny Mize and Joe Torre once did at Darryl Strawberry. Mize and Strawberry were left-handed sluggers whose aim at the cozy right-field porch at Yankee Stadium gave many opposing managers cause for alarm, the same feeling Showalter had when thinking about Ibanez.

As unusual as it was to see Derek Jeter sitting in the Yankees dugout as his teammates took the field in the ninth inning, the more amazing aspect was that he was able to play at all after the third inning. The Captain aggravated a nagging bone bruise in his left ankle running out a triple in the bottom of that inning.

He gutted his way through the eighth before Girardi decided to keep a hobbling player on the field was too great a risk in what was then a one-run game. In his eighth-inning at-bat, Jeter nearly fell down when landing on his left ankle on the follow-through of a swing and miss.

The startling finish was something the Orioles are not accustomed to. Extra innings have been joyful ones for the Orioles, who had won 16 consecutive such games before Wednesday night. The only two extra-inning games Baltimore lost in the regular season were against the Yankees on back-to-back nights April 10 and 11 at Camden Yards.

In the April 10 game, the deciding hit was a two-run double by Raul Ibanez.

A-Rod stays in 3-hole; Hughes to start Game 4

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had no real surprises in his lineup for Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium. All the critics who expected Alex Rodriguez to be removed from the 3-hole were probably not satisfied to see him there once again, albeit as the designated hitter rather than at third base.

Even that was not a surprise. Eric Chavez got the start at third basically because he is one of the few Yankees hitters who has good numbers against Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez, who held them to a .196 batting average in two Stadium starts during the regular season. Chavez had 3-for-6 (.500) with one home run and two RBI against Gonzalez.

The argument against Rodriguez batting third can be pretty compelling. He has 1-for-9 (.111) with five strikeouts in the series. Not very good, I grant you. However, he was robbed of an RBI hit in the first inning of Game 1 by second baseman Roberto Andino’s lucky grab of a line drive headed for center field that instead became a double play.

Anyone who recalls the way Girardi flummoxed on a nightly basis about his batting order when A-Rod was on the disabled list in July and August should not be stunned to see him pretty much leave things alone. Girardi has a thing about not stacking his left-handed hitters, which if he bats Robinson Cano third and drops Rodriguez to sixth he would be doing with four consecutive left-handed hitters.

And it is important to note that Cano, Curtis Granderson and switch hitters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher (both of whom bat left-handed against right-handed pitchers) entered Game 3 a combined 0-for-21 against Gonzalez.

Too much has been made in the press about the situation in 2006 when then Yankees manager Joe Torre dropped Rodriguez into the 8-hole when he was slumping in that year’s ALDS. The situation then had more to do with Torre’s not notifying A-Rod about the move before posting the lineup card, a severe breach of clubhouse etiquette on the manager’s part.

Girardi was not with the Yankees in 2006 (he was managing the Marlins), but his explanation seemed to reflect on that instance.

“I think whenever you move a player, it has a chance not only to affect the player but also the whole team, too,” Girardi said. “There are different things you have to worry about. Sometimes moving one player causes you to move two or three or maybe even four because our lineup is built around somewhat protecting our left-handed hitters from matchups. That’s a concern, too.”

Another Girardi decision that may be a topic of debate among fans is his notifying Phil Hughes that he would be the Game 4 starting pitcher regardless of the outcome of Game 3. There has been speculation in the media that Girard should bring CC Sabathia on short rest to start Game 4 if the Yankees should lose Game 3 and fall behind, 2-1, in the best-of-5 series.

I think Joe is right. Look at it this way. If the Yankees lose Game 3, they would need to win two more games to take the series. So they are going to need Hughes to start one of those games. It is not a good idea to have Andy Pettitte, 40 and not far removed from a broken leg, start Game 5 on short rest. So if you need Hughes to be in the rotation, what difference does it make if it is Game 4 or Game 5? There is no point in putting in Hughes’ mind that he is not capable of winning an important game.

Split in Baltimore what Yanks needed to do

The Yankees did what they needed to do in Baltimore in the American League Division Series in splitting the two games at Camden Yards and heading home to Yankee Stadium for at least two more games and possibly a third. Oh, sure, the Yanks would have loved to do what the Reds did against the Giants by winning the first two games in San Francisco to create a shot at closing out that National League Division Series at home in Cincinnati.

The Division Series format of the team with home-field advantage playing the first two games on the road and the next three, if necessary, at home was put back in place this year for reasons that I still cannot explain. Major League Baseball wisely went to a 2-2-1 format for Division Series play in 2000 and plans to return to that structure next year. For now, the Yankees must live with it, but at this point it is to their advantage. The troubling part is that the Orioles won the season series at the Stadium this year, six games to three.

Frankly, the Yankees were lucky to get the runs they did in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss in Game 2 that squared the series. There was Ichiro Suzuki’s magic act in the first inning with a whirling dervish of a slide. In the seventh, Orioles right fielder left his feet trying to catch a low liner by Eduardo Nunez that allowed the Yankees’ swift designated hitter to turn the hit into a double and be in position to score on Derek Jeter’s single.

It was another game in which the Yankees could not come up with the big hit the way they did in the ninth inning of Game 1 when they scored five runs. In Game 2, they left 10 runners on base, including six in scoring position. They stranded a runner on second in the first inning, the bases loaded in the fourth and runners on second and third in the seventh.

Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ perennial Game 2 postseason starter, deserved a better fate. He pitched one batter into the eighth and allowed three runs, seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts. He gave up a 1-0 lead in the third on a two-run single by Davis, who was one of five straight batters to reach base that inning after two were out.

Pettitte was furious with himself for giving up the third run, in the sixth. Matt Wieters smoked a double to left-center to begin the inning, and Mark Reynolds found a hole to the right side for an opposite-field single that delivered what proved the deciding run.

After a bullpen breakdown, Baltimore got a superlative pitching effort from Taiwanese starter Wei-Yin Chen, who allowed one earned run in 6 1/3 innings with a sneaky fastball and a hard slider, and ensemble work from the bullpen. Under-arm righthander Darren O’Day got a big strikeouts of Alex Rodriguez in the seventh.

The Orioles wanted nothing to do with Robinson Cano, who was intentionally walked by lefty reliever Brian Matusz, who set down four of the next five hitters, two on strikeouts. Yankees manager Joe Girardi showed respect for Matusz’s ability to hold runners on first base by not pinch running for Mark Teixeira after he led off the eighth with a single. Girardi saw no point is using Brett Gardner with Matusz on the mound and the track slow from early rain. It would not have mattered much because Matusz struck out Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson and got Nunez on a foul pop.

Those outs proved just as valuable as the three in the ninth produced by Jim Johnson, the major-league saves leader (51) during the regular season who got bombed for five runs in a third of an inning in Monday night’s last inning.

These two teams have played 20 games each other this season. Each has won 10. The see-saw has to stop at some point, and when it does it will be at Yankee Stadium.

Ichiro outwits Wieters for Yanks’ first run

It is a good thing for the Yankees that Orioles catcher Matt Wieters never had Stump Merrill for a catching instructor. Merrill, who served in the Yankees’ organization for decades as a minor-league manager as well as the big club’s skipper in 1991 and ’92, was a former catcher who worked with backstops in spring training and the minors for many years. It was Stump who helped the transition from second base to catcher for a young guy named Jorge Posada.

I spent a lot of time talking baseball with Stump. One of his pet peeves was when catchers let base runners outfox them on tag plays at the plate. Stump used to say that it made no sense to chase a runner if the catcher missed the tag at first swipe and the runner missed the plate.

“Just sit on the plate and let the runner come to you,” Merrill said of his strategy. “If he wants to score, he has to try and get to the plate at some time.”

One of Merrill’s pupils over the years in the Yankees’ system was Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who is as smart about the game as there is in baseball. Buck’s catcher could have used that lesson Monday night in the first inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

Fortunately for the Yankees, Wieters played into Ichiro Suzuki’s hands by lunging to tag the wiry outfielder, who used an assortment of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly moves to elude his pursuer and score the first run.

Suzuki appeared to be a dead duck as he tried to come home from first base on a double into the right field corner by Robinson Cano. Ichiro weaved his way around Wieters, then waited for the catcher to make a move toward him and reacted by swerving away from the catcher to slap a tag on the plate before he was tagged.

Anyone who has ever seen Suzuki’s stretching exercises realizes that he is half elastic. Trying to tag him in that spot was a waste of time. Had Wieters merely squatted on the plate, the game would have still been scoreless.

Climate control difficult in modern postseason

As the start of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and the Orioles being delayed for the second straight day suggests, weather more and more plays a factor in baseball’s postseason. Remember last year’s rainout of Game 1 of the Yankees-Tigers ALDS wiped out the start for pitchers CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

It is a sign of the times. Not to get overly nostalgic, but consider this. Monday marked the 56th anniversary of Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the World Series at Yankee Stadium. The momentous event occurred in Game 5. That same date Oct. 8 this year was for Game 2 of the ALDS.

The 1956 World Series ended with a Yankees victory at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field Oct. 10. If the World Series goes the distance in 2012, the date of Game 7 will be Nov. 1. The weather can only get worse as the postseason continues to expand.

The Yankees’ five runs in the ninth inning in Game 1 at Camden Yards marked the fourth time they scored that many runs in the ninth inning of a postseason game. All the other times were also on the road. They scored seven runs in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1936 World Series against the Giants at the Polo Grounds and six runs apiece in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the ’36 Series and in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

At 40 years, 3 months, 24 days, Andy Pettitte was the fourth oldest pitcher to start a postseason game for the Yankees. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Yankees pitchers who were older than Pettitte were Roger Clemens (45 in 2007), Randy Johnson (43 in 2006) and David Wells (40 years, 4 months in October 2003). Wells was only a week younger than Pettitte.

Monday night’s Game 2 assignment was Pettitte’s 43rd postseason start. The total for the entire Baltimore staff was 10. It was also Pettitte’s 16th start in Game 2 of a postseason series, the most in history. Tom Glavine is second with 11.

Pitcher Dellin Betances was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list in order to participate in Arizona Fall League. To make room on 40-man roster, pitcher Cory Wade was designated for assignment.

Yankees close it out against Orioles’ closer

It has been a characteristic of the Yankees since Mariano Rivera has been with them – especially during postseason play – that they find a way to beat up an opponent’s closer while the opponent seldom, almost never, gets to touch Mo. Be it a Kent Mercker or an Arthur Rhodes or a Trevor Hoffman or an Armando Benitez or a practically anybody, the Yankees never feared the other team’s closer as much as the other guys feared Rivera.

Now the great Rivera is on the sidelines for this postseason, but his mates followed their history Sunday night by mugging Orioles closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning to put up a 5-spot that turned a 2-2 nail biter into a 7-2 laugher in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The Yankees did not even need Mo’s replacement, Rafael Soriano, to get into the game as starter CC Sabathia came within one out of his first career postseason complete game.

Make no mistake; Sabathia played the major role in this victory. The lefthander was hurt by one pitch, a hanging slider that Nate McLouth lined into right field for a two-run single in the third inning. CC was at his best in the eighth after giving up a leadoff double to right by J.J. Hardy. Sabathia got a huge strikeout of Adam Jones, sawed off the bat of Matt Wieters, who fouled out to first baseman Mark Teixeira, and ended the threat by getting a grounder to shortstop by Mark Reynolds, who smacked seven home runs off Yankees pitching during the regular season with CC among the victims.

Frankly, it was the kind of performance that Johnson routinely gave the Orioles all season when the righthander posted a league-leading 51 saves. Big deal, the Yankees might have thought. They have found ways to clobber other closers. Now it was their turn to do it to Johnson. It did not take long, either.

Johnson was stunned early. Russell Martin got ahead in the count 2-0 and zeroed in on a 93-mph fastball and slammed it to left for a home run, the first Johnson had ever yielded to the Yankees. Martin had been one of three Yankees players thrown out on the bases during the game, but he ignited the rally and was the first of five guys to touch the plate in the final inning.

Raul Ibanez followed Martin’s blow with a single. He raced to third on a hit-and-run single to right by Derek Jeter. Yankees manager Joe Girardi made a timely substitution at that point by having Eduardo Nunez, 25, run for Ibanez, 40. Nunez was able to score on a dribbler along the first base line by Ichiro Suzuki that became the Yankees’ fourth straight hit and produced what appeared to be an important insurance run.

But there would be much more insurance to come. Robinson Cano, who finished the regular season on a 24-for-39 (.615) tear but was hitless in his first four at-bats Sunday night, lined a 95-mph heater to the opposite field for a two-run double that knocked Johnson out of the game. An error by Hardy on the play allowed Cano to reach third from where he scored on Nick Swisher’s fly ball to center off Tommy Hunter.

How great was it to see Sabathia come out for the ninth and pitch count be damned? But when Lew Ford doubled with two down, Girardi decided 120 pitchers were enough for Sabathia and David Robertson finished off a game that the Orioles’ closer could not contain.