BALTIMORE -- Do the Yankees rely too much on the home-run ball? You won't catch them saying that after Russell Martin's leadoff blast in the ninth inning powered them to a 7-2 win over the Orioles Sunday night in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Before that homer off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, the Yankees had been frustrated by a combination of poor baserunning, lack of clutch hitting and excellent Orioles defense as the game went to the ninth inning tied at 2.
But Martin's homer to left opened the floodgates to a five-run inning. Ichiro Suzuki (2-for-5, two RBIs) singled in an insurance run, Robinson Cano had a two-run double and Nick Swisher ended the onslaught with a sacrifice fly.
Situational hitting is nice. But the long ball is nice, too.
"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, and he's 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."
It was a game-changing hit. Said Martin, "Oh, it's a big lift. Kind of sparked us, it seemed like. We added some insurance runs at the end there. But again, 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. But it definitely felt good at the moment, and I felt like it lifted the team a little bit."
"We've always thought he's a very good hitter, and we saw him get off to a really tough start, and he has really turned it around," manager Joe Girardi said of Martin, who hit .277 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his last 24 regular-season games. "He was huge in the month of September for us. Huge hit tonight. He's got a lot of power. He packs a lot of power. And he's capable of doing it."
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead two batters into the game when Derek Jeter singled and Ichiro doubled him home. But Ichiro attempted to steal third base with Alex Rodriguez batting and was gunned down by Matt Wieters for the first out of the inning.
Skip ahead to the fourth inning. The Yankees were trailing 2-1 when Rodriguez and Swisher walked to give them two baserunners with one out.
Mark Teixeira hit a drive off the top of the rightfield wall. Orioles rightfielder Chris Davis -- a first baseman playing out of position -- fielded the ball and gunned down Teixeira trying to stretch a single into a double for the second out. Rodriguez crossed the plate with the tying run, but the Yankees again had potentially run themselves out of a bigger inning. After an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Martin flied to center.
In the sixth, Swisher and Teixeira had two-out singles to bring up Granderson against lefthander Troy Patton, who had come in to face Teixeira. Granderson hit a foul fly ball deep into the rightfield corner that Davis ran down to end the inning.
It was a superb play and continued a trend of excellent glovework by the Orioles. Earlier, Mark Reynolds made a pair of stabs on hot shots at first base and turned them into outs.
In the seventh, Patton walked Martin and Raul Ibañez to open the inning. Jeter executed a successful two-strike sacrifice bunt against former Met Darren O'Day to push two runners into scoring position for Ichiro.
The Orioles played their infield halfway in. Ichiro grounded one to second baseman Robert Andino, who threw a one-hopper that Wieters scooped before placing the tag on Martin. Rodriguez struck out for the final out.