NEW YORK –Â Yankees-Orioles. Playoffs. Disputed home run to right field. Yankees win. Sound familiar?
Pitcher CC Sabathia and his New York teammates saw a long drive by the Orioles’ Nate McLouth called foul by the slimmest of margins – hello, Jeffrey Maier – and then hung on to beat Baltimore 3-1 on Friday in the deciding game five of the AL Division Series.
With Alex Rodriguez benched, the Yankees advanced to the AL Championship Series. They will face the Detroit Tigers, starting tonight in New York.
“It is still a long way to go,” Sabathia said.
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.
The Orioles were again 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 and nobody on 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, they didn’t make any signal, meaning the 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.
McLouth had this to say about the ball: “It started off fair, and it was just hooking a little bit. I thought it was foul just in game speed. A couple of people mentioned it might’ve ticked the pole … I was satisfied after they went down and looked at the replay that it was foul.”
Steven Ellis, a Yankees fan, caught the ball with his Yankee cap in the second deck. “It was foul all the way, never hit the pole,” he said.
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 Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco and deflected Derek Jeter’s fly ball. Umpire Richie Garcia called it a home run, which tied the score 4-4 in the eighth inning, and the Yankees went on to win in the 11th.
On Friday, whether McLouth’s ball was a homer or not, Sabathia was doing a pretty good job of shutting the Orioles down. He improved to 4-0 in his last eight postseason starts and didn’t allow an extra-base hit. He struck out nine.
As for the offense, the Yankees’ Raul Ibanez hit a go-ahead single in the fifth, and Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI double in the sixth.
Curtis Granderson boosted the lead to 3-0 with a second-deck solo homer in the seventh.