Ninth-inning Rally in Game 1 Calms Nervous New York Yankee Fans: A Fan's Take

Being in Close Game with Baltimore Orioles Hasn’t Worked Out Well for Many Teams in 2012

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Ninth-inning Rally in Game 1 Calms Nervous New York Yankee Fans
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Catcher Russell Martin played the hero for the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division …

As the innings grew later Sunday night, Oct. 7, during Game 1 of the American League Division Series and the score remained tied, all of those eye-popping statistics compiled by the Baltimore Orioles during their 2012 run to the postseason started to loom larger for the New York Yankees.

There was that major-league best 29-9 record in one-run games the Orioles compiled this season. There was the off-the-charts 16-2 record in extra innings that Baltimore put together in 2012, also the best in the majors and highlighted by winning 16 extra-inning games in a row after dropping their first two of the season.

Then there was the sight of Jim Johnson coming in to work the top of the ninth. It's not that Johnson has been unhittable. It's just that he might as well have been from late July through the end of the season.

On July 27, Johnson was torched by the Oakland Athletics for six runs, all earned, on five hits in just one-third of an inning and was the losing pitcher in a 14-9 loss to the Oakland Athletics.

But over the last two-plus months of the season, Johnson wasn't just good - he was creepy good. He was "The Terminator" in a black-and-orange uniform. After the nightmarish outing against Oakland, Johnson made 26 appearances the rest of the season, recording an ERA of 0.36 and a WHIP of 0.80. He allowed just one run over 25 innings, surrendered just 17 hits, walked only four batters and recorded 21 straight saves to set an Oriole single-season mark with 51.

But in Game 1 against the Yankees, Johnson didn't have it. Leading off the inning, Yankee catcher Russell Martin belted the third pitch he saw from Johnson deep into the chilly, damp Maryland night for a solo home run (click here for video) and a 3-2 Yankee lead. New York would go on to notch four straight hits off Johnson. Raul Ibanez singled and then the 40-year-old designated hitter advanced to third on a perfect hit-and-run by Derek Jeter.

Ichiro Suzuki followed with a swinging bunt that drove in Eduardo Nunez, sent in to pinch-run for Ibanez at third, and advanced Jeter to second. After striking out Alex Rodriguez, Johnson served up a two-run double to Robinson Cano that upped the score to 6-2.

Cano moved up to third base on an error and Johnson's night was done. Reliever Tommy Hunter surrendered a fly ball to Nick Swisher that was deep enough out to center field to score Cano and the book on Johnson was closed.

It was a book worthy of a Stephen King horror story: one-third of an inning, five hits, five runs, four earned, one strikeout and a loss.

With the Orioles playing musical starting rotation this season, the bullpen has been a tower of strength for Baltimore. But Johnson proved to be human, after all, and the Yankees earned an important 7-2 win in Game 1 of the best-of-5 series that continues Monday night, Oct. 8, in Baltimore before shifting to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 and Games 4 and 5, if necessary.

From a fan's standpoint, cracking the mystique of Johnson was almost as important as merely getting the win.

Phil Watson is a 20-year newspaper veteran and a longtime New York Yankee fan.

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