NEW YORk — Yankees-Orioles. Playoffs. Disputed home run to right field. Yankees win.
CC Sabathia and his New York teammates saw Nate McLouth’s long drive called foul by the slimmest of margins – hello, Jeffrey Maier – and then hung on to beat Baltimore, 3-1, Friday in the deciding Game 5 of the AL Division Series.
With Alex Rodriguez benched, the Yankees advanced to the AL Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, starting Saturday night in the Bronx.
Sabathia pitched a four-hitter, wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning. It was his first complete game in 17 postseason starts, and the first for the Yankees since Roger Clemens did it in 2000.
Yet it was another piece of history that this game evoked.
The Orioles were in a foul mood, stung on a close play in right that echoed what happened across the street at the old Yankee Stadium in the 1996 AL championship opener, on a fly ball that still stirs emotions in Baltimore.
This time, with the Orioles trailing 1-0 in the sixth, McLouth sent a 3-1 pitch deep down the right-field line. Eyes turned to right field umpire Fieldin Culbreth, who demonstrably waved foul with both arms.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter came out to ask for a video review, and most of the umpiring crew went down a tunnel to examine the images. When they ran back onto the field, they didn’t make any signal – meaning the original call stood. McLouth struck out on the next pitch, ending the inning.
“I saw it go to the right of the pole,” Culbreth said. “There is netting there and it didn’t touch the netting. It did not change direction.”
Added crew chief Brian Gorman: “There was no evidence to overturn the decision.”
Showalter? Not sure.
“I couldn’t tell. It was real close,” he said.
McLouth wondered, too, what the umps would decide.
“It started off fair and it was just hooking a little bit. I thought it was foul just in game speed,” McLouth said. “A couple of people mentioned it might’ve ticked the pole, but he was way closer than I was and I was satisfied after they went down and looked at the replay.”
Steven Ellis, a fan from the borough of Queens, caught the ball with his Yankee cap in the second deck.
“It was foul all the way, never hit the pole,” he said.
Back in 1996, the 12-year-old Maier reached over the wall above right fielder Tony Tarasco and deflected Derek Jeter’s fly ball. Umpire Richie Garcia called it a home run, which tied the score 4-all in the eighth inning, and the Yankees went on to win in the 11th.
“Just watching at home, I promise,” Maier texted to The Associated Press after this play.