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CC Sabathia and his New York teammates saw Nate McLouth's long drive called foul by the slimmest of margins -- hello, Jeffrey Maier -- and then hung on to beat Baltimore 3-1 Friday in the deciding Game 5 of the AL division series.
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With Alex Rodriguez benched, the Yankees advanced to the AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers, starting Saturday night in the Bronx.
"It is still a long way to go," Sabathia said. "I still got hopefully three or four more starts. So the job is not done yet."
Sabathia pitched a four-hitter, wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning. It was his first complete game in 17 postseason starts, and the first for the Yankees since Roger Clemens did it in 2000.
Yet it was another piece of history that this game evoked.
The Orioles were in a foul mood, stung on a close play in right that echoed what happened across the street at the old Yankee Stadium in the 1996 AL championship opener, on a fly ball that still stirs emotions in Baltimore.
This time, with the Orioles trailing 1-0 in the sixth, McLouth sent a 3-1 pitch deep down the right-field line. Eyes turned to right field umpire Fieldin Culbreth, who demonstrably waved foul with both arms.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter came out to ask for a video review, and most of the umpiring crew went down a tunnel to examine the images. When they ran back onto the field about two minutes later, they didn't make any signal - meaning the original call stood. McLouth struck out on the next pitch, ending the inning.
"I saw it go to the right of the pole," Culbreth said. "There is netting there and it didn't touch the netting. It did not change direction," he added, indicating he did not think the ball grazed the pole.
Added crew chief Brian Gorman: "We saw the same thing on the replay. There was no evidence to overturn the decision."
Showalter? Not sure.
"I couldn't tell. It was real close," he said.
McLouth wondered, too, what the umps would decide.
"It started off fair and it was just hooking a little bit. I thought it was foul just in game speed," McLouth said. "A couple of people mentioned it might've ticked the pole, but he was way closer than I was and I was satisfied after they went down and looked at the replay that it was foul."
Steven Ellis, a fan from the Broad Channel section of Queens, caught the ball with his Yankee cap in the second deck.
"It was foul all the way, never hit the pole," he said.
Ada Cruz, sitting behind Ellis, added: "No way, no way. I watched it and he caught it."
A stadium usher who wouldn't give his name, however, said he saw the ball glance off the pole.
Back in 1996, the 12-year-old Maier reached over the wall above right fielder Tony Tarasco and deflected Derek Jeter's fly ball. Umpire Richie Garcia called it a home run, which tied the score 4-all in the eighth inning, and the Yankees went on to win in the 11th.
"Just watching at home, I promise," Maier texted to The Associated Press after this play.
Curtis Granderson boosted the lead to 3-0 with a second-deck solo homer against Troy Patton in the seventh, and the Yankees advanced following their decision to bench the slumping Rodriguez, their $275 million third baseman.
"He didn't pitch all five, but it certainly felt like it, didn't it?" Showalter said.
Sabathia, who improved to 4-0 in his last eight postseason starts, didn't allow an extra-base hit. He struck out eight and walked two and matched his season high of 121 pitches.
He took a one-hit shutout into the eighth but allowed Matt Wieters' leadoff single and Manny Machado's walk. Mark Reynolds struck out, and Lew Ford - starting at DH in place of Jim Thome - hit an RBI single.
Robert Andino hit a bouncer to the third-base side that Sabathia gloved, but Eric Chavez left third uncovered and Sabathia's throw to second was late, leaving the bases loaded. McLouth struck out on a changeup and Sabathia escaped when J.J. Hardy hit a slow bouncer to shortstop that Jeter, playing on a sore left ankle, charged and scooped elegantly before throwing to first just in time.
Sabathia pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, finishing a 121-pitch effort as Wieters hit a comebacker. The Yankees ran to celebrate on the third-base side of the mound and the Orioles walked off slowly and somberly.
"I came back to hopefully help this club get into this position," Pettitte said.
For Baltimore, which beat Texas in the first AL wild-card playoff, it was a disappointing ending to a renaissance season for the proud franchise. The Orioles went 93-69, finishing behind the Yankees in an AL East race decided on the final night, and ended a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
"It's been about as much fun as I have had in the big leagues watching how they play the game every day, the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore with each other," said Showalter, who has not reached the LCS in 14 major league seasons.
New York won for the 12th time in 23 meetings between the teams in a matchup so close the Yankees outscored the Orioles 106-102. The teams were within one run of each other at the end of 46 of 52 innings in the division series. New York totaled just 16 runs in the five games and Baltimore 10.
A-Rod (2 for 16), Robinson Cano (2 for 22), Nick Swisher (2 for 18) and Granderson (3 for 19) all slumped against Baltimore. The Yankees advanced despite hitting .219 with runners in scoring position (7 for 32) -- but Baltimore was 3 for 22 in that situation during the three games in New York.
Slumping Orioles hitter included Wieters (3 for 20), Hardy (3 for 22) and Jones (2 for 23).
With a 5:07 p.m. start on the first chilly night of autumn, there was an unusual sight at Yankee Stadium at the start - large patches of empty seats. And Baltimore fans could be heard chanting "O" during "The Star-Spangled Banner." But the ballpark filled up by the middle innings.
The 37-year-old Rodriguez, hitless in 12 at-bats against right-handed pitchers with nine strikeouts, was a spectator, too, in a decision that could have long-term repercussions for the Yankees, who owe him $114 million over the next five seasons.
Chavez, who replaced A-Rod in the starting lineup, went 0 for 3 with a pair or strikeouts.
Hammel retired his first 12 batters before a single to right leading off the fifth by Teixeira, a star at Baltimore's Mount Saint Joseph High School. With Reynolds playing behind him at first, the slow-footed Teixeira swiped second for just his third stolen base this year.
"I thought we needed a spark," he said.
Ibanez fouled off three pitches, one clipping plate umpire Mike Everitt on the right ear, before singling up the middle just past the glove of Andino's dive at second base. Teixeira scored standing up as Rodriguez, wearing a gray sweat shirt, jumped up and down in the Yankees' dugout.
Jeter walked on a full-count pitch with one out in the sixth, and Suzuki lined a 91 mph fastball off the wall above the 385-foot sign in right-center.
|Derek Jeter strikes a familiar pose as he celebrates the Yankees' Game 5 win over the Orioles. (US Presswire)|
|Players of the Game|
|Nate McLouth, LF||4||0||1||0||0||2||3||.318|
|J.J. Hardy, SS||4||0||0||0||0||0||4||.136|
|Adam Jones, CF||4||0||0||0||0||2||1||.087|
|Chris Davis, RF||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||.200|
|Matt Wieters, C||3||1||1||0||1||1||0||.150|
|Manny Machado, 3B||2||0||0||0||1||1||1||.125|
|Mark Reynolds, 1B||3||0||0||0||0||2||3||.158|
|Lew Ford, DH||3||0||1||1||0||0||0||.375|
|Robert Andino, 2B||3||0||1||0||0||0||0||.364|
|RBI - Lew Ford (1)|
|SB - Nate McLouth (2, 2nd base off Sabathia/Martin)|
|Team LOB - 4|
|DP - Hardy-Andino-Reynolds, Andino-Hardy-Reynolds|
|Jason Hammel (L,0-1)||5.2||4||2||2||2||6||0||3.18|
|IBB - Teixeira by Jason Hammel|
|Pitches-Strikes - Jason Hammel 97-62, Troy Patton 24-17, Pedro Strop 11-4, Brian Matusz 1-1|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jason Hammel 5-5, Troy Patton 1-0, Pedro Strop 1-0, Brian Matusz 1-0|
|Batters Faced - Jason Hammel 22, Troy Patton 5, Pedro Strop 2, Brian Matusz 1|
|New York Yankees|
|Derek Jeter, SS||3||1||0||0||1||2||0||.364|
|Ichiro Suzuki, LF-RF||3||0||1||1||1||0||0||.217|
|Robinson Cano, 2B||4||0||0||0||0||2||2||.091|
|Mark Teixeira, 1B||2||1||1||0||1||0||0||.353|
|Raul Ibanez, DH||3||0||1||1||0||1||2||.444|
|Nick Swisher, RF||3||0||0||0||0||2||1||.111|
|Brett Gardner, LF||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Curtis Granderson, CF||3||1||2||1||0||0||0||.158|
|Russell Martin, C||3||0||0||0||0||0||1||.176|
|Eric Chavez, 3B||3||0||0||0||0||2||0||.000|
|2B - Ichiro Suzuki (2, Hammel)|
|HR - Curtis Granderson (1, Patton)|
|RBI - Ichiro Suzuki (3), Raul Ibanez (3), Curtis Granderson (1)|
|SB - Mark Teixeira (1, 2nd base off Hammel/Wieters), Curtis Granderson (1, 2nd base off Hammel/Wieters)|
|Team LOB - 3|
|DP - Cano-Teixeira|
|New York Yankees|
|CC Sabathia (W,2-0)||9||4||1||1||2||9||0||1.53|
|Pitches-Strikes - CC Sabathia 121-78|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - CC Sabathia 6-11|
|Batters Faced - CC Sabathia 32|
|Attendance - 47081|
|Game Time - 2:52|
|Temperature - 52|
|Umpires - Home - Mike Everitt, First Base - Mark Carlson, Second Base - Tony Randazzo, Third Base - Angel Hernandez|