Deflating ninth sends Orioles to loss in Game 1

Deflating ninth sends Orioles to loss in Game 1

Deflating ninth sends Orioles to loss in Game 1
BALTIMORE -- The city of Baltimore, which had eagerly awaited its first playoff game in 15 years, sat through a rain delay of two hours and 26 minutes Sunday night, the largest crowd of the season -- 47,841 -- packing Camden Yards to proudly form a sea of orange towels and not waste any opportunity to get to its feet.

But on a night that meant so much to the Orioles and their fans, one of the individuals most responsible for the team's turnaround, closer Jim Johnson, faltered in the ninth. Johnson, who set a single-season club record and led baseball with 51 saves, surrendered five runs in the ninth -- after allowing one earned run in his previous 26 games -- as the Orioles watched Game 1 of the American League Division Series slip away in a 7-2 loss to the Yankees.

"He's the reason why we're out there playing this game tonight, one of the big reasons," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Johnson, a first-time All-Star who had allowed more than two runs in just two prior outings. "Every guy in that clubhouse knows that he's a special guy. You'd have to be real picky to find something you don't like about Jim Johnson. We like him wearing our uniform, whatever the statistics or outcome may be."

With the scored tied at 2, Johnson -- on for a rare non-save opportunity -- gave up his first home run since June 5 on a 2-0 pitch to Yankees catcher Russell Martin, and New York padded the lead on Ichiro Suzuki's one-out RBI and Robinson Cano's two-run double, the latter ending Johnson's night.

"I made mistakes," said Johnson, who had already looked at the videotape when talking to reporters. "I obviously paid for those, and that was location. It wasn't anything else. It was just location, mainly two fastballs that really cost us. Just have to make a better pitch. That's all it comes down to."

"I can't remember [Johnson] ever having an inning like that," first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "It happens to the best of us, and he's one of the best. He's going to be all right."

The Orioles' offense also failed, squandering several opportunities to get to Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who went 8 2/3 innings in a dominant effort. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was 0-for-3, opened the eighth inning with a double down the right-field line to give the O's a runner in scoring position for the third time in four innings. But Sabathia wiggled free again, plowing through the middle of the order to strand Hardy and mark the sixth Orioles baserunner left through eight innings.

"I wish I could tell you I change my game plan, but I don't," said Sabathia, who was 0-2 with a 6.38 ERA in three regular-season starts against Baltimore. "I pitch to my strength, attacking in, and just going off my fastball command, and it was working today. The changeup was working really well. These guys know what I am trying to do. I've faced them a lot. I was able just to execute tonight."

Baltimore stranded a pair of two-out runners in the sixth, with Sabathia getting Chris Davis to fly out after Reynolds' single and rookie Manny Machado reached on shortstop Derek Jeter's error. The Orioles also threatened in the fifth, when Davis opened with his second hit of the night, but Sabathia struck out Nate McLouth -- who drove in both of Baltimore's runs in the third -- and got Hardy to ground out to strand runners on the corners.

"He wasn't trying to strike everybody out," Reynolds said of Sabathia, who turned in the longest postseason start of his career, throwing 120 pitches in the process. "He kept us off-balance with his curveball and his changeup -- he was painting that curveball away and changeup down. I don't think he gave us too many fastballs."

Prior to Johnson, the Orioles' relief corps strung together several shutdown innings, which is par for the course for a bullpen that has played a starring role in Baltimore's success.

Right-hander Darren O'Day, who has been one of the team's unsung heroes, pitched out of a sticky situation in the seventh inning, getting an inning-ending strikeout of Alex Rodriguez to keep the score tied. With a pair of runners aboard courtesy of walks by lefty Troy Patton and the O's infield playing in, second baseman Robert Andino fielded Ichiro's grounder and threw home to catcher Matt Wieters, who made a terrific pick in the dirt and applied the tag to cut down Martin. O'Day's strikeout of Rodriguez brought the crowd to its feet, and improved his mark to 39-of-45 in stranding inherited runners this season.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz pitched around a two-out walk in the eighth, picking up two strikeouts, including a three-pitch inning-ending punchout of Curtis Granderson.

"It's unfortunate, with the effort we got out of everybody else and I didn't hold up my end of the bargain," Johnson said. "I feel confident in our team, and we'll come back tomorrow and give a better performance."

Orioles starter Jason Hammel, who gave up two runs over 5 2/3 innings in his first start in 3 1/2 weeks, expressed equal optimism.

"We're not going to panic," said Hammel, who exited to a standing ovation after a two-out single in the sixth. "Obviously you want to win the first one, especially at home, but it is what it is. We've been playing tight ballgames all year from start to finish, so it's obviously a little different atmosphere in the playoffs, but it's still the game of baseball and we know what we're doing. We'll lick our wounds and come back tomorrow."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.