Russell Martin's lead-off HR in the top of the ninth proved to be the game-winning run
The Baltimore Orioles were able to keep the game close for eight innings, but when it mattered the most, the New York Yankees' playoff-seasoned bats were able to rouse a rally off All-Star closer Jim Johnson.
New York exploded for five runs in the top of the ninth and head into Monday night's contest with a 1-0 lead, and a guarantee that they'll head back to New York at least even in the series.
Although the five runs in the ninth were what won the contest for the Yankees, the two that CC Sabathia held the O's to was most impressive.
He put not only his dismal performance against Baltimore this season behind him, but also a raucous crowd that showed no letdown after a two-hour rain delay.
Without further ado, let's assign some grades for each squad.
The starting pitchers in this contest pretty much performed as expected.
Baltimore's Jason Hammel, returning from the disabled list for his first start since September 11, did his part and kept the O's in the game, leaving with the game tied.
After shaking off some rust in a one-run first inning, Hammel cruised through the second and third, showing great velocity and a breaking ball that improved as the game wore on.
He peaked in the third, sandwiching a Derek Jeter groundout with punchouts of Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki.
He got into some trouble in the fourth after issuing a leadoff walk to Alex Rodriguez and another to Nick Swisher. He managed to limit the damage to one run, on a one-out RBI single by Mark Teixeira. Luckily for Hammel, Chris Davis cut down Teixeira trying to stretch his single into a double.
He regained his composure during a one-two-three fifth, getting massive strikeouts on Jeter and Ichiro that really got the crowd going.
Hammel finally departed after surrendering a two-out single to Nick Swisher in the top of the sixth. In all, he surrendered two runs on four hits, getting five strikeouts and issuing four walks, one of which was intentional. He threw 112 pitches, 70 for strikes.
Altogether it was an impressive outing for a guy coming back from the DL without making any rehab starts.
Sabathia, on the other hand, battled like a true ace.
He scattered 120 pitches over 8.2 innings, allowing just two runs on eight hits. He struck out seven and walked one.
Lew Ford managed to drive him out of the game with a two-out double in the ninth, but that was really the only well-hit ball off of the hefty lefty.
Most impressive, he didn't cave under the pressure of pitching in an adrenaline-packed atmosphere, showing more concern for his fantasy football team, which he was keenly attuned to during the rain delay, according to his postgame interview with Craig Sager.
Final grade for Hammel: B
Final grade for Sabathia: A
Neither team looked particularly sharp at the plate.
At least until the Yankees exploded for five runs in the top of the ninth inning.
Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira all performed well, with Cano redeeming himself after a rough performance at the plate through eight innings.
Ichiro had a strong outing, as did Russell Martin, who put the Yankees on top with a solo homer leading off the ninth.
It's hard to overlook the impact of Nick Swisher, who walked in his first two at-bats before singling in his third. In the other dugout, Nate McLouth came up with another huge hit, driving in two with a third-inning, two-run single.
After driving in 20 runs all season, McLouth has four in his past two games.
New York and Baltimore left a combined 28 runners on base.
Final grade for Baltimore's offense: C-
Final grade for New York's offense: B+
As it had all season, the O's bullpen came out on fire.
Troy Patton and Darren O'Day both escaped major jams, and it appeared that the O's bullpen was going to save the day for them once again.
As anyone who read this article knew, however, the Orioles' relievers have performed miserably against the Yankees as of late.
That trend continued, as All-Star closer Jim Johnson imploded in the ninth inning, costing the Orioles Game 1.
In the team's past eight meetings, including tonight, the O's pen has surrendered 19 earned runs against New York. Three times they have given up five runs in a single game.
Live by the bullpen, die by the bullpen.
Final grade for Orioles bullpen: F
Whether it was pinch-running Eduardo Nunez or giving Derek Jeter the green light to bunt with two strikes in the seventh inning, Joe Girardi called a heck of a game from the visitor's dugout.
His reward is a guarantee that the Yankees will head back to New York at least even, and possibly with a 2-0 series lead.
Sending CC Sabathia back to the mound for the eighth and then the ninth inning showed serious guts.
Final grade for Joe Girardi: A+
The Orioles played a heck of a game, but for the first time in quite some time, their bullpen failed them when it mattered most.
That it came from Jim Johnson, who came into the game with a 1.29 ERA against New York this season, made it all the more surprising.
The Yankees have hit the O's relief corps incredibly well of late, so it was no surprise to see them finally wear down Baltimore in the top of the ninth.
CC Sabathia came up huge for New York, saving just about everyone in the team's bullpen for Monday, should Andy Pettitte struggle against a Baltimore squad that will be looking for some major offensive revenge.
Seeing as how there are no ties in baseball, this grading process is pass/fail.
Final grade for Baltimore: F
Final grade for New York: A