Results tagged ‘ Jim Johnson ’

Yanks accept gift-wrapped victory from Orioles

The Yankees did what they needed to do by winning three of four games at Baltimore, which was to leap-frog over the Orioles in the American League wild-card chase. The Yanks remain one game behind (two in the loss column) to the Rays but put the Orioles in their rearview mirror by 1 ½ games.

Thursday night’s 6-5 victory was an out-and-out gift, but they’ll take it. It was gift-wrapped by Baltimore’s closer, Jim Johnson, who was not in a save situation as the score was 5-5 when he took the mound in the top of the ninth. Johnson got off to a rocky start by giving up a single to .189-hitting Brendan Ryan, who had not been able to buy a hit in his first two games with the Yankees.

Johnson next threw away a sure out when Chris Stewart sacrificing bunted the ball directly back to the reliever, who had a clear shot at forcing Ryan at second base – until he threw the ball into center field. Curtis Granderson bunted successfully to advance the runners with Alex Rodriguez coming up. Johnson then uncorked a wild pitch that scored Ryan to break the tie.

Rodriguez was eventually walked intentionally and Alfonso Soriano grounded into an inning-ending double play. But the damage was done, and Mariano Rivera with a scoreless ninth made sure that the Orioles paid for it.

This game was on the verge of being a major downer for the Yankees when the O’s came back from being down 5-2 in the eighth to tie the score on Danny Valencia’s three-run home run off David Robertson, who pitched so poorly that inning that the official scorer in his discretion did not credit him with the winning decision after the Yankees went ahead in the ninth.

That decision, which I did not agree with by the way, cost Rivera his 44th save since he was awarded the victory instead. Call it a victory or call it a save, it was the third straight rescue effort by Mo in the series.

Soriano might get partial credit for saving the game as well. His fence-climbing, one-handed grab of a drive by Manny Machado at the start of the eighth robbed the third baseman of what appeared a sure home run. Things just got worse for D-Rob as he gave up singles to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis and the homer to Valencia on a first-pitch fastball. J.J. Hardy followed with a double that put the potential go-ahead run in scoring position, but Robertson ended the inning by striking out Matt Wieters.

Official scorer Mark Jacobson used the rule that a pitcher can be denied a victory if his performance is “brief and ineffective.” No one could argue that Robertson was effective, however, there was nothing about his relief outing that could be considered brief. He pitched to seven batters and got three outs, including a crucial third out with a runner in scoring position. As shabby as the inning was for Robertson, I am not sure the official scorer’s ruling was fair.

But all of that is mere paperwork as far as the Yankees are concerned. No matter what pitcher was credited with the victory, it belonged to the whole team and was a nice springboard for the trip to Boston.

Pitchers stifled because of managers’ scrap?

Someone will have to explain to me what CC Sabathia and Chris Tillman had to do with the beef between their managers, the Yankees’ Joe Girardi and the Orioles’ Buck Showalter, at the end of the first inning Monday night in the opener of a crucial four-game series between the American League wild-card playoff berth foes at Camden Yards.

The shouting match between the skippers apparently was over Girardi’s admonishing Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson for reasons the Yankees manager did not specify after the game only to say that he has always been dedicated to defending his players. One can only assume the player he was defending was catcher Austin Romine after hearing Showalter’s post-game remarks that the issue may have been sign stealing or signaling pitch location.

Well, it all made for interesting theater and little else. So what was the point of plate umpire Ed Hickox issuing warnings to the pitchers? What did Sabathia and Tillman have to do with all this? Here is a pivotal game between a couple of postseason candidates and the pitchers are neutralized for no good reason.

Camden Yards is a home-run haven that requires pitchers to use every inch of the plate and they are told from practically the start of the game that they work the inner half at their peril. What a joke.

Despite this limitation, both starters worked deeply into the game. Sabathia was provided a 1-0 lead before he took the mound on a home run by Alex Rodriguez. But for the 12th time this season, CC gave up a lead as the Orioles tied the score with a run in the bottom half of the first on a sacrifice fly by Adam Jones.

The pitchers exchanged zeroes until the fifth when another sacrifice fly, by J.J. Hardy, put the Orioles ahead. Baltimore picked up an additional run thanks to the legs of Alexi Casilla. He singled with two out and stole second from where he scored on a single by Nick Markakis, one of his three hits in the game.

Sabathia hurt himself in the eighth with a throwing error that helped the Orioles to another run on a two-out double by Manny Machado. Lyle Overbay’s 14th home run leading off the eighth inning ended Tillman’s stretch of 14 consecutive outs and his outing as well. Tommy Hunter struck out the next three innings.

The Yankees got the tying run to the plate after Rodriguez led off the ninth with a single, but Jim Johnson withstood a warning-track drive by Curtis Granderson to get his 43rd save.

It was not the way the Yankees wanted to start the series. They fell three games behind the Rays for the second wild card and 1 ½ games behind the Orioles and Indians with only a one-game edge over the Royals.

Oh, Mo, 1st blown save at Stadium since 2010

Not that you would recognize it immediately on a day when the temperature peaked at 94 degrees but hell froze over Sunday.

Doesn’t it always seem that way when Mariano Rivera blows a save? The Yankees’ formula was in an ideal spot Sunday with starter Hiroki Kuroda pitching seven shutout innings of brilliance coming off a sore left hip flexor and David Robertson supplying a 1-2-3 eighth, setting it up for Mo to finish things off in the ninth, which he has done more often than any pitcher in history.

Pitching for the fifth time in seven days may have taken a toll on Rivera, who is after all 43 years old. A sign that he could not get his cutter inside enough was evident when Nick Markakis came within inches of a game-tying home run. Normally when a guy hits a ball like that he pops up the next pitch or swings through it. Markakis drilled the next pitch into center field for a single. The Orioles right fielder hit the ball hard off Rivera with two swings in one at-bat than most hitters do off him over a month.

Adam Jones had the killing blow, however, driving a 0-1 two-seamer over the left field wall. A stunned Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,218 watched a 1-0 lead suddenly evaporate. The save went instead to the Orioles’ closer, Jim Johnson, who had blown one two games ago and rebounded with a perfect ninth for save No. 30, the same number Rivera was trying to notch.

It was only the second time this season that Rivera did not convert a save opportunity. The loss ended a streak of 41 straight converted save opportunities at the Stadium for Rivera that dated to the start of the 2011 season. His previous blown a save at home was Sept. 26, 2010 to the Red Sox.

“Whenever it happens, you’re kind of shocked,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

This was a downer. The Yankees were primed to make up for getting swept last week at Camden Yards by returning the favor and adding to their six-game winning streak. The Orioles managed only three hits in seven innings off Kuroda, who walked one batter and struck out four. Rivera recognized more than anyone that this was a tough no-decision for a starting pitcher to accept.

“Kuroda pitched great and deserved to win,” Mo said. “That would have been a great one to save. I made a mistake on a professional hitter. Too bad. To do what I did. . .you can’t do that.”

“There are times like that for him, too,” Kuroda said, acknowledging that whether the Yankees like to admit it or not that Mariano is human. “There is nothing you can do about it.”

Rivera even felt bad that he may have hurt the All-Star candidacy of teammate David Robertson, who is one of the five players nominated for the Final Vote on the American League squad. As a sign of support, Mo wore his uniform stockings up above his calf the way Robertson does that led to his charity organization being named “High Socks for Hope.”

“I don’t think I helped him,” Rivera said with a rueful smile.

Asked if he would stop wearing his socks that way, Rivera said, “I have no superstitions.”

Rivera put the game squarely on his shoulders, but there was not much margin for error because the Yankees scored only one run, in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Eduardo Nunez. All six hits for the Yankees Sunday were singles just as were all 10 of their knocks Saturday. Despite winning two of three games over Baltimore, the Yankees had only two extra-base hits – doubles both – in the series.

The Orioles got a one-out double from Matt Wieters in the second inning and a leadoff two-bagger from Markakis in the fourth but Kuroda kept them from scoring by frustrating the O’s with sinkers and splitters. Kuroda pitched at least seven innings without allowing a run for the 11th time in 51 starts since joining the Yankees in 2012, surpassing Felix Hernandez for the most such starts in the AL over the past two seasons.

The Yankees signed first baseman Travis Ishikawa off waivers from the Orioles. Ishikawa, 29, appeared in six games with the Orioles this season and batted .118 with one RBI in 17 at-bats before being designated for assignment June 29. He spent the majority of the season with Triple-A Norfolk, batting .316 with 29 runs, 16 doubles, seven home runs and 311 RBI in 49 games and 177 at-bats. Ishikawa, who bats left-handed, is a .260 career hitter over parts of six major-league seasons with the Giants, Brewers and Orioles.

Nova gets late reward for 1st complete game

It would have been an absolute shame if Ivan Nova did not get the victory Friday night, and yet the possibility was there before the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning for one of the most satisfying triumphs of the season.

Nova was nothing short of magnificent. He gave up a two-run home run to Matt Wieters in the second inning (after hitting the previous batter, Chris Davis) and only two other hits all game. Nova went the full nine for his first complete game in the majors, but when he came into the dugout before the Yankees’ final at-bat he was staring at a 2-1 deficit. He tried to keep faith and recalled how Luis Cruz told him on the bench a couple of innings earlier that he was not losing this game.

Several other teammates came through for Nova to reward Cruz’s faith. David Adams started the inning against Orioles closer Jim Johnson with a well-struck single to right, which livened up a crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium that had been silent much of the night as the Yankees squandered several opportunities.

Johnson opened the door even more for the Yankees when he mishandled a sacrifice attempt by Brett Gardner and did not get an out anywhere. Big error. Ichiro Suzuki bunted next, not a good one as Wieters grabbed it in front of the plate on the first hop. The catcher looked to third base, but Manny Machado had charged the bunt and was not in position to take a throw at the bag to get the lead runner. Wieters threw to first to get Ichiro, and the Orioles walked Robinson Cano intentionally to load the bases with none out.

Johnson then kicked the door wide open by walking Travis Hafner on four pitches to force home the tying run. Johnson fell behind 2-0 in the count to Vernon Wells, who took a strike and fouled off a pitch before sending everyone home with a ground single to left field. Hafner and Wells had come up short three innings earlier with a runner in scoring position when the Yanks needed a run to tie the score, so their at-bats in the ninth were wonderful atonements. The Yankees had come from behind for a walk-off victory against a division opponent that had swept them a week before in Baltimore and handed Johnson a league-high sixth blown save.

But the best thing about the inning is that it put a ‘W’ next to Nova’s name in the box score. Man, did he ever deserve it. Making a spot start for ailing Hiroki Kuroda, Nova held one of the American League’s fiercest lineups to three hits and a walk with 11 strikeouts over nine innings.

“We’ll probably start him again,” manager Joe Girardi said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “His curve was really, really good, but he also had a good fastball down in the zone and his changeup was really effective. We played good defense behind him. It was a great team win.”

“A great night” Nova called it. “Everything was working for me.”

Everything but the score until the ninth inning.

Yankees did a swoon in June

For three nights in Baltimore, the Yankees watched a mirror image of what they were in 2012. The Yankees pummeled clubs last year with 245 home runs. The Orioles of 2013 are on such a pace. With three more bombs Sunday night in a 4-2 victory, the Orioles raised their season HR total to 115, the most in the major leagues.

By contrast, halfway through their season the Yankees have 81 home runs, the last of which was Robinson Cano’s 17th of the year, a solo shot in the sixth off Chris Tillman (10-2), who gave up one other run in six innings on a bases-loaded walk to Brett Gardner in the second and earned his seventh straight victory.

Cano’s jack got the Yankees to 3-2, but the Orioles got an insurance run in the seventh. Kuroda gave up a single to Matt Wieters and a double to J.J. Hardy before coming out for Boone Logan, who kept the damage to a minimum by yielding one run on a sacrifice fly by Brian Roberts.

Baltimore simply out-muscled the Yankees in the series, the first time they were swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards since April 15-17, 2005. The O’s out-homered the Yanks, 7-1, in the series with Chris Davis, the major-league home run leader with 31, leading the way with three. The first baseman’s leadoff homer in the second inning was one of three long balls given up by Hiroki Kuroda (7-6), who was also taken deep by Manny Machado in the first inning and Nate McLouth in the third.

Machado had two other hits, including his 38th double following McLouth’s blast. Machado and Davis are trying to pull off a tandem effort that has not been accomplished since the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row days. In 1927, Babe Ruth led the majors in home runs with 60 and teammate Lou Gehrig in doubles with 52. Davis and Machado are leading in those categories at this point.

Jim Johnson picked up his 28th save of the year and 100th of his career, which tied him with Stu Miller for third place on the franchise list behind all-time leader Gregg Olson (160) and runner-up Tippy Martinez (105). Johnson is the seventh active major-league pitcher to record 100 saves with his current club, joining the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera (634), the Tigers’ Jose Valverde (119), the Carlos Marmol (117), the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel (112), the Brewers’ John Axford (106) and the Indians’ Chris Perez (106). Six other active pitchers have recorded 100 or more saves with a club other than their current team – Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, Heath Bell and Joakim Soria. Since the start of 2012, Johnson has 78 saves, 13 more than any other reliever. Of course, that is due in part because Rivera was out most of the 2012 season because of a knee injury that required surgery.

The sweep ended a dismal June for the Yankees, who had an 11-16 record and were outscored, 122-88, during the month. The Yankees batted .223 as a team in June and averaged 3.26 runs per game, which put pressure on a staff that pitched to a 4.38 ERA during the month. The rotation was 8-15 with a 4.66 ERA.

The Yankees have lost five straight games for the third time this year as the clock is still ticking on Joe Girardi’s 600th managerial victory. Their other five-game losing streaks were May 26-30 to the Rays (1 game) and the Mets (4) and June 11-15 to the Athletics (3) and Angels (2). The loss Sunday dropped the Yankees into fourth place in the American League East, just two games ahead of the last-place Blue Jays.

Since their highpoint of the season after the games of May 25 when the Yankees had a 30-18 record, they are 12-21 and have lost 7 ½ games in the standings, going from first place with a one-game lead to fourth place and 6 ½ games from the top and four games from the second wild-card berth.

July will have to be much better for the Yankees.

Former Yank Dickerson hurts old club

The streak of the Yankees winning games in which they score first came to an end Tuesday night because the Orioles scored last. Nate McLouth’s home run off a 1-1 pitch from Vidal Nuno, the Yankees’ sixth pitcher of the game, was the difference in a 3-2, 10-inning decision. The Yanks had been 19-0 in games when they got on the scoreboard first, which they did again Tuesday night but this time they couldn’t pull it off.

For the second straight night, a Yankees starting pitcher gave up two leads. Monday night it was CC Sabathia in a game the Yanks won also in 10 innings. Tuesday night it was Phil Hughes, once again haunted by the long ball. The culprit was former teammate Chris Dickerson, who touched Hughes for solo blasts in the third inning (climaxing a 10-pitch at-bat) that made the score 1-1 and in the fifth that made it 2-2.

Dickerson hit only three home runs in 64 at-bats for the Yankees in short stretches with the club in 2011 and 2012. He played center field Tuesday night to give Adam Jones a half-night off as the designated hitter and had a 3-for-4 game to raise his 2013 batting average to .371 with three homers and eight RBI.

If not for Dickerson, it would have been a splendid start for Hughes, who was coming off an embarrassing, two-thirds of an inning outing last week against Seattle at Yankee Stadium in which he was clocked for seven earned runs and six hits. The righthander rebounded with a solid, six-inning effort in which he yielded five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Hughes could not get Dickerson out, which cost him. Phil has given up 10 home runs in 47 1/3 innings.

Travis Hafner drove in both runs for the Yankees with singles that scored teammates who had led off innings with doubles, Brett Gardner in the first and Vernon Wells in the fourth. Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez proved nearly untouchable after Hafner’s second run-scoring hit as the righthander retired 11 straight batters until David Adams singled with two down in the seventh. Nick Markakis’ diving catch of a liner to right-center by Jayson Nix ended the inning.

Adams was the Yankees’ only base runner after the fourth inning as the Orioles set down 21 of the Yankees’ last 22 batters. Tommy Hunter pitched two scoreless innings for Baltimore, and Jim Johnson added a shutout 10th. Johnson, who had blown his three previous save opportunities, including Monday night, ended up the winning pitcher.

The Yanks’ bullpen was strong, too. Boone Logan, Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Preston Claiborne followed Hughes with three scoreless innings combined to stretch the pen’s shutout streak on the road to 29 2/3 innings over the past 11 away games, which ended in the 10th. Robertson was particularly impressive by striking out the side in the eighth.

Nuno, the lefthander who won his first major-league start eight days earlier, was recalled from Triple A Scranton to sub for the disabled Andy Pettitte in the rotation, lost his scheduled start to Sunday’s rainout and was plenty fresh to come out of the bullpen. He probably still is. After all, he threw merely three pitches.

O’s closer proves there is only one Rivera

What Yankees fans never see from Mariano Rivera was what Orioles fans witnessed Monday night from Jim Johnson. The Orioles closer, who led the American League is saves last season with 51, sustained his third consecutive blown save, something that Rivera has never done, and the Yankees took advantage of it to come away with a 6-4, 10-inning victory.

Johnson was gone by the time the Yankees scored the deciding runs in the extra inning off Pedro Strop and Brian Matusz with clutch hitting by Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. Rivera kept the lead intact with his 17th save in 17 opportunities. Johnson began the season with a similar streak with 14 saves before coming unglued in his past three appearances.

Hafner dealt the crushing blow to Johnson this time with a one-out home run in the ninth, the Yankees’ fourth solo shot of the evening in Baltimore’s humid Inner Harbor air. Johnson’s latest failure opened the gates for the Yankees to improve their record in games where they get on the scoreboard first to 19-0 and extend the Orioles’ losing streak to six games.

The Yankees were in danger of losing their first game when they scored first because their offense was reduced to the long ball with no one on base and CC Sabathia blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2. Robinson Cano and Orioles first baseman Chris Davis entered the game tied for the AL lead in home runs with 12 and maintained that tie as each got his 13th in his first at-bat.

David Adams, the rookie who has done so well at third base and turned a few more good plays Monday night, hit his first career home run to put the Yankees up, 2-0, in the second, but Davis made it 2-1 in the bottom of the second and Nick Markakis singled in the tying run in the fifth.

It was a strange start for Sabathia, who allowed a double-digit hit total (11) for the second game in a row (23 total in his past 12 2/3 innings) and had only two strikeouts, although he did not walk a batter. The lefthander is winless in four starts since April 27. Former teammate Freddy Garcia actually pitched better. He allowed the two solo homers and just one other hit with two walks and two strikeouts in six innings.

Lyle Overbay’s leadoff homer in the seventh off lefthander Troy Patton put the Yankees ahead again, but Sabathia couldn’t hold the advantage as the Orioles grabbed the lead on RBI doubles by Markakis and J.J. Hardy. Shawn Kelley stopped the O’s there with two more strikeouts. He added a third in the eighth, which gives the righthander 15 of the past 21 batters he has faced and 33 in 18 1/3 innings for the season.

Baltimore manager Buck Showalter entrusted the lead to Johnson, who began the ninth by retiring Cano on a groundout. Johnson fell behind 3-1 in the count to Hafner, who drove a 94-miles-per-hour fastball over the left field fence for his eighth home run. The Yankees were back in business.

Johnson’s woes have come after a run of 35 consecutive saves dating to last July. He has given up eight earned runs and nine hits in 2 1/3 innings (30.86 ERA) in the three blown saves, which has driven his season ERA from 0.95 to 4.22.

In the 10th, Ichiro Suzuki ran his Camden Yards hitting streak to 20 games with a leadoff double off Strop, a reliever who has struggled against the Yankees. Vernon Wells, riding the bench despite having good career numbers against Garcia (.438, one home run), came up as a pinch hitter for shortstop Reid Brignac and doubled to left to send home Ichiro.

Austin Romine bunted Wells to third, but Wells could not advance as Jayson Nix grounded out. After Cano was intentionally walked, Hafner delivered an insurance run with a line single to right off the left-handed Matusz. Rivera then showed Johnson how it’s done with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th.

Hafner. Wells. Overbay. There are those names again. Yankees fans are getting used to seeing these guys do important stuff.

Yanks and Orioles fittingly go down to the wire

For 10 weeks, the Orioles whittled away a 10-game deficit in the American League East to the Yankees, eventually drawing even in mid-September. Back and forth the teams went all that month with Baltimore unable to unseat the Yankees from first place.

The two clubs wound up opposing each other in the AL Division Series in another see-saw skirmish that fittingly will go down to the wire. There is no more appropriate way for the Yankees and the Orioles to settle this business between them that on the field at Yankee Stadium Friday night in a winner-to-advance finale.

“It is pretty fitting,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It has been a grind the whole year. It has been a fight to stay ahead of this club the whole year.”

Game 4 Friday night went 13 innings with the Orioles coming back from a hard, 12-inning loss Thursday night to win, 2-1, in one of their patented one-run, extra-inning affairs. The Orioles are 17-3 postseason included in extras this year, but all three losses have been to the Yankees.

Each side used eight pitchers. It came down to David Phelps giving up a pair of doubles to Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy in the 13th for the deciding run. Jim Johnson, who blew a save opportunity Thursday night on the first of Raul Ibanez’s two dramatic home runs, retired the side in order in the bottom of the 13th.

For the second straight game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled Alex Rodriguez for a pinch hitter against the right-handed Johnson. Ibanez had already been used off the bench in the ninth as a pinch hitter for Jayson Nix and grounded out. Batting for A-Rod in the 13th was fellow third baseman Eric Chavez, who lined out to Machado at third base to end the game.

Phelps entered the game in the 12th after Joba Chamberlain was struck in the right elbow by the top half of Matt Wieters’ shattered bat on the follow-through of his single to left field. Phelps got the next three batters out but was in immediate trouble in the 13th when Machado lined a double to right-center.

Nate McLouth, who had accounted for Baltimore’s run in regulation time with a homer run in the fifth off Yankees starter Phil Hughes, advanced Machado to third base with a grounder to the right side. It proved unnecessary when Hardy doubled to left-center. He also got to third on an infield out but was stranded as Adam Jones made the third out on a pepper shot.

Keeping the rally to one run kept the Yankees’ chances alive to tie the score with one swing as Ibanez had done the previous night. Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Chavez came up short, which brings this tug of war between the two best teams in the AL East to an apt conclusion.

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.

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.