New York advanced to an AL championship series matchup with Detroit, beating Baltimore 3-1 in Game 5 of their AL division series on Friday behind Sabathia's four-hitter.
Andy Pettitte, the career post-season leader with 19 wins, starts Game 1 for the Yankees on Saturday night with a rested bullpen behind him, opposed by Doug Fister. It's a rematch of last year's division series won by the Tigers in five games and provides a platform for Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.
"I don't know if you can shut him down, but try to keep him from doing too much damage in the series, and that's key to us winning," Pettitte said.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi faces another big decision. After benching slumping Alex Rodriguez for Game 5 against the Orioles, will he insert him back at third base against a Detroit team with four right-handers in its starting rotation?
To get back to the ALCS for the first time in two years, the Yankees had to shake off Baltimore. The teams were separated by no more than a game from Sept. 3-24, the longest September stretch that tight between first- and second-place clubs since the 19th century.
The Yankees had some help from the right field umpire, just as they did against the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS — hello, Jeffrey Maier.
With New York ahead 1-0 in the sixth, Nate McLouth's drive down the right-field line on a 3-1 pitch was called foul by the slimmest of margins.
Fieldin Culbreth demonstrably waved foul with both arms. Orioles manager Buck Showalter jogged onto the field to ask for a video review, and four umpires went down a tunnel on the third-base side to examine the images on a screen near their dressing room. 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."
McLouth wondered 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.
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.
Sabathia went on to defeat the Orioles for the second time in six days, Raul Ibanez hit a go-ahead single in the fifth off Jason Hammel after former Baltimore high school star Mark Teixeira singled and swiped second in a rare steal. Diving second baseman Robert Andino just missed gloving Ibanez's hit.
Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI double off the right-centre field wall in the sixth. Curtis Granderson boosted the lead to 3-0 with a second-deck solo homer against Troy Patton in the seventh.
Sabathia, who improved to 4-0 in his last eight post-season starts, didn't allow an extra-base hit. He struck out nine, walked two and matched his season high of 121 pitches.
"He didn't pitch all five, but it certainly felt like it, didn't it?" Showalter said.
Sabathia 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.
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. With David Robertson warming up in the New York bullpen, McLouth struck out on a changeup and Sabathia escaped when J.J. Hardy hit a slow three-hopper to shortstop that Jeter, playing on a sore left ankle, charged and gloved 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 out of their dugout to celebrate on the third-base side of the mound and the Orioles walked off slowly and somberly.
"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 totalled just 16 runs in the five games and Baltimore 10, ending a dynamic six-week struggle. After 10 different nights in September, the rivals were tied for first.
"They are a very good club and they are a very resilient club," Girardi said. "People thought they were going to go away, they never went away."
NOTES: The crowd of 47,081 was the smallest in 18 post-season games at new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009. ... New York is 11-3 in the ALCS. ... The 26 runs were the fewest in a five-game post-season series since St. Louis (12) and Arizona (10) combined for 22 runs in the 2001 NLDS.