Yankees-Orioles. Playoffs. Disputed home run to right field. Yankees win.
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.
With Alex Rodriguez benched, the Yankees advanced to the AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers, starting Saturday night in the Bronx.
Sabathia pitched a four-hitter, wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning. It was his first career postseason complete game, and the first for the Yankees since Roger Clemens did it in 2000.
Yet it was another piece of history that this game evoked.
Baltimore again was stung on a close play in right, echoing what happened across the street at the old Yankee Stadium in the 1996 AL championship opener.
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 five of the umpires 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.
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, now a grown man, texted to The Associated Press after this play.
Sabathia defeated the Orioles for the second time in six days, Raul Ibanez hit a go-ahead single in the fifth off Jason Hammel 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, and the Yankees advanced following their decision to bench the slumping Rodriguez, their $275 million third baseman.
Sabathia, who improved to 4-0 in his last eight postseason starts, didn't allow an extra-base hit, struck out eight and walked two.
"This is what you play for," he 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.
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 scooped elegantly before throwing to first just in time.
Sabathia then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, completing a 121-pitch effort, as the Yankees ran to celebrate on the third-base side of the mound and the Orioles walked off slowly and somberly.
New York doesn't have much time to get ready for the Tigers. Andy Pettitte is likely to start for the Yankees against Doug Fister.
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.
But the Yankees 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.
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 is 2 for 16 with no RBIs in the series and 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 first baseman Mark Reynolds playing behind him, the slow-footed Teixeira swiped second for just his third stolen base this year.
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. Hammel struck out Robinson Cano and intentionally walked Teixeira, and lefty Troy Patton struck out Ibanez.