BALTIMORE -- The Yankees saw plenty of the bulletproof bullpen that has protected the Orioles' improbable season in 18 regular-season meetings, but now they've countered with this thought: That's nice, but the season starts over here in October.
New York's 51st postseason appearance opened in winning fashion on Sunday, as Russell Martin's go-ahead homer off closer Jim Johnson sparked a five-run ninth inning and helped the Yankees take Game 1 of the American League Division Series with a 7-2 victory at Camden Yards.
"It's a big lift," Martin said. "It kind of sparked us, it seemed like. A pitcher of that caliber, you're not expecting to hit home runs against him. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and luckily he left a pitch over the middle of the plate for me."
Martin's blast, followed by run-scoring hits from Ichiro Suzuki and Robinson Cano, stunned a raucous, towel-waving crowd assembled for the first postseason game held in Baltimore since 1997, as Johnson -- fresh off a dominant 51-save regular season -- permitted his first runs since Sept. 8.
"Johnson has been so great all year; eventually you've got to get to him, right?" the Yankees' Mark Teixeira said. "And tonight was that night."
The rally offered the run support CC Sabathia had been waiting all night for; after Martin's blast, Sabathia put the last touches on his 120-pitch gem, finishing one out shy of what would have been the Yankees' first postseason complete game since 2000.
"It's awesome," Sabathia said of Martin. "He has struggled all year, but his attitude has never changed. He's come up with some big hits in September, and that was probably one of the biggest there. Obviously, it was the biggest one of the season so far."
Heading to the ninth inning, the Yankees were 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and had left eight men on base. The surge turned the night around, and now they feel as though they've taken control of the series.
"I mean, this place was rocking," Nick Swisher said. "To be able to come in here and battle and fight and pull off those runs in the ninth, it just goes to show you how good our starting pitching is -- and that we fight for all 27 [outs]."
Historically, teams that have taken a 1-0 lead have gone on to win 18 of 34 previous ALDS; combined with the National League's results, winners of Game 1 have taken 48 of the 68 previous Division Series matchups.
Martin, whose homer came on a 2-0 pitch, said that he wasn't trying to play the hero.
"I definitely wasn't thinking home run," Martin said. "I got in a good count to hit in, and I got a pitch that was up in the zone. [Johnson] is the type of guy that doesn't necessarily make any mistakes over the plate, and in that situation, he just left a fastball up and I put good wood on it."
Sabathia again answered the critics who wondered about a dearth of ace-caliber performances in the second half, striking at his postseason struggles since New York's 2009 World Series championship as well as a bloated 6.38 ERA in three starts this year against the Orioles.
After waiting out a rain delay of two hours and 26 minutes, the left-hander struck out seven and walked one over his 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball, throwing 80 of his 120 pitches for strikes -- an impressive display of command on a chilly autumn night.
"My fastball command was good," Sabathia said. "I just worked off that. I was throwing the ball in pretty good and was getting the corner, so I just tried to stay out there and make my pitches, and it worked out."
Sabathia would've preferred to finish off the complete game, but Lew Ford's two-out double in the ninth drew Yankees manager Joe Girardi to summon David Robertson for the final out.
"Of course, I always want to stay out there," Sabathia said. "But it's up to me to make that pitch, just ride it out one more pitch, and he ended up getting a hit."
Baltimore scratched out a rally in a two-run third inning, as Nate McLouth took advantage of a hanging slider, slapping a two-run single through the right side of the infield to score Chris Davis and Ford.
The Orioles threatened for more against Sabathia, getting two runners aboard in the fifth and sixth innings, but Sabathia was able to pitch out of trouble both times.
The Yankees got their lineup in motion against right-hander Jason Hammel, but mishaps on the bases limited New York to just two runs in 5 2/3 innings, starting with Ichiro being thrown out stealing third base following his first-inning RBI double.
"Obviously I didn't feel good about that," Ichiro said through an interpreter, "but you've just got to make a good start on that, and I'm going to do it again."
Hammel proceeded into the fourth inning, when Teixeira dented the right-field scoreboard with a run-scoring hit. Davis played the carom well and threw out Teixeira, slowed by a recent left calf strain, at second base.
"It's disappointing when you can't get a double off that ball," Teixeira said. "When I'm feeling normal, I should have a double no matter what. But he still made a nice play."
The Yankees battled brownouts with runners in scoring position all season, and they seemed to be stuck again in the sixth and seventh innings, letting Troy Patton and Darren O'Day off the hook.
But the amazing story of Baltimore's bullpen was interrupted as Johnson faltered, and the Yankees hope that cracking that aura of invincibility will pay dividends as the ALDS continues.
"I think you can just kind of throw stats out the window right now," Swisher said. "It doesn't really matter. We feel we've got a great lineup, top to bottom. It's just nice to come in here and get that first win."