The New York Yankees earned the AL East title by pulling away from the Baltimore Orioles in the final week of the regular season.
That scenario repeated itself in the first game of their AL playoff series, and now the Orioles are again forced to play catch up against their division rivals.
Russell Martin led off the ninth inning with a tiebreaking home run off Jim Johnson, CC Sabathia turned in a sparkling pitching performance and the Yankees gained the upper hand with a 7-2 victory Sunday night.
For eight innings, the teams engaged in a tense duel that could have gone either way. Then came the ninth inning, when the Yankees scored five runs off Johnson, Baltimore's All-Star closer, to ruin the Orioles' first home playoff game since 1997.
"You always want to take the first one, but you go game by game," said New York's Robinson Cano, who contributed a two-run double in the ninth. "Enjoy this game and just go home get some sleep and be ready for (Game 2)."
The Yankees have been to the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 years. This is Baltimore's first trip in 15 years, following 14 successive losing seasons.
"We stayed in as long as we could," Orioles right fielder Chris Davis said. "We're finding out what playoff baseball is all about."
Sabathia allowed two runs and eight hits, coming within an out of his first career complete game in the postseason. He was 0-2 in three starts against Baltimore during the regular season, but in this one the husky left-hander returned to form and improved his lifetime record against the Orioles to 17-4.
"Fastball command was good, worked off that," Sabathia said. "Throwing the ball pretty good, getting the corners. Tried to stay out there and make some pitches."
Sabathia is 6-1 with the Yankees in the postseason, 4-0 in the division series.
With the score 2-2, Martin drove a 2-0 pitch from Johnson into the left-field seats. It was the first of four straight hits off Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves. Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter followed with singles, Ichiro Suzuki drove in a run with a swinging bunt and one out later, Cano hit a two-run double.
In his seven prior appearances against New York, Johnson allowed one run in seven innings and had three saves. Nick Swisher capped the five-run ninth with a sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter.
"I made mistakes," Johnson said. "I obviously paid for those, and that was location. It wasn't anything else. Two fastballs that really cost us. Just have to make a better pitch. That's all it comes down to."
The Orioles were left disappointed, but manager Buck Showalter was confident his team would be in bounce-back mode Monday.
"This is a very realistic club that lives in reality, but they also understand the sense of urgency," he said. "You can sit here and say you got beat by a quality pitcher, but that's why teams like that are playing this time of year. We have good, quality pitchers, too. I don't have any doubt what type of mentality our guys will have as we go forward in this series."
The start of the game was delayed by rain for 2 hours, 26 minutes, and that did nothing to lessen the enthusiasm of the 47,841 fans who waited so long for the Orioles to play a postseason game at Camden Yards.
"We're obviously disappointed we couldn't give them a win, but at least we're playing a five-game series instead of a shootout," Davis said.