Mark Reynolds reacts after striking out with two on and none out in the eighth… (Bill Kostroun/Associated…)
NEW YORK — The Baltimore Orioles defied odds and perhaps even their own expectations in reaching the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But in a decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Friday, they could not defy New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, who for the second time in six days handcuffed the Orioles in eliminating them from the postseason.
Sabathia surrendered only four hits for a 3-1 win at Yankee Stadium on a crisp, breezy mid-October night the likes of which the Orioles had not felt since the days of Ripken, Alomar and Palmeiro a decade and a half ago.
In the three divisional games in New York, the Orioles went 3 for 19 with runners in scoring position. In the ninth inning Friday, Adam Jones flied out, Chris Davis struck out and Matt Wieters bounced out to Sabathia. Then the Frank Sinatra music blared.
Jones went 2 for 23 in the series. Wieters (3 for 20), J.J. Hardy (3 for 22), Manny Machado (2 for 16), Mark Reynolds (3 for 19) and Jim Thome (1 for 12) also struggled. Baltimore pitchers gave up only 16 runs in the five games but got minimal support.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of guys got cold at the wrong time,” Jones said. “This is where we feel we belong. We feel that we’re one of the teams in the [American League] East to beat now. We’re not just a pushover in the East.”
With a New York lineup rejiggered by the headline-generating benching of $275 million third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees scratched for two runs off Baltimore starting right-hander Jason Hammel, all they needed to advance for the third time in four years to the American League Championship Series, which will begin Saturday night in New York.
Baltimore and New York split their first 22 games this season, and until New York pushed a run across in the sixth in front of a crowd 47,081, neither team led by more than one run in 46 of the first 48 innings in the low-scoring series.
Sabathia followed pitching 82/3 innings in Game 1 with a complete game on Friday in which he struck out nine and faced only one batter over the minimum in the first seven innings.
“He didn’t pitch all five [games], but it certainly felt like it, didn’t it?” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “We had very few opportunities against him. We had a shot there in the eighth, and he took it to another level, if there is such a thing.”
Down 3-0 in the eighth, Wieters led off with a single and Machado walked. After Reynolds struck out, Lew Ford singled past diving shortstop Derek Jeter to drive in Wieters, and Robert Andino loaded the bases when he hit a bouncer between the mound and third. Sabathia fielded the grounder but no one covered third, and his throw to second was too late to get Ford.
Sabathia squelched the potential rally by striking out Nate McLouth for the second out, and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter charged a grounder by Hardy and threw to first for the final out of the inning.
Sabathia, with his cockeyed cap, screamed into his glove as he headed toward the dugout.
“He is our ace,” said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, whose team had only five hits. “That’s the bottom line. He has been there, he has done that.”
The Orioles, whose starting pitchers posted a 2.00 ERA in the series, thought maybe they had tied the game at 1 with two outs in the top of the sixth when McLouth sent a full-count pitch arcing down the right field line near the foul pole. The umpires ruled that the ball was foul, and Showalter came out of the dugout to question the call. After a brief delay and check of the replay, the umpires upheld the initial ruling. Many press box observers thought the ball grazed the pole, which would have been a game-tying home run. McLouth struck out to end the inning.
“I saw it go to the right of the pole,” right field umpire Fieldin Culbreth said in a statement issued after the game. “There is no 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 said in the same statement. “There was no evidence to overturn the decision.”
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Jeter drew a one-out walk and scored on a double off the wall in right center field by Ichiro Suzuki. New York went up 3-0 in the seventh on a solo homer by Curtis Granderson off Orioles reliever Troy Patton.
By the series standards, that was a commanding lead, particularly with Sabathia rolling into the eighth: The teams, after all, combined for only 26 runs over five games after ending the regular season as the top two home-run hitting teams in the major leagues.
Rodriguez is fifth on the all-time homer list but was pulled for a pinch hitter in Games 3 and 4 and eventually dropped from the lineup Friday. He was 2 for 16 in the series, including 0 for 12 against right-handers, with nine strikeouts. Eric Chavez took Rodriguez’s spot at third base.
The Orioles, after 14 consecutive losing seasons, stayed within two games of the Yankees in the AL East during the final 32 games of the regular season and matched the perennial playoff qualifiers almost pitch for pitch in the best-of-five divisional series.
“It was weird because the farther and farther we got, the deeper into the season, it was surprising to other people that we were in the position we were in, but I don’t think we were surprised,” said McLouth, who hit safely in every game in the divisional series. “Once you start expecting to win, I think that’s a good frame of mind to be in.”
“We’ve awoken generations, I think, back in Baltimore,” Jones said. “We’ve brought them back to the ballpark. Now we just have to maintain it.”