Raúl Ibañez’s heroics in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS against the Orioles put the Yankees in a great position, but they hadn’t crossed the finish line of the series just yet. They had a chance to finish things off the next day, but managed just one run in 13 innings, as they were held in check by Baltimore starter Joe Saunders and the Orioles’ bullpen. That meant the season was on the line for a do-or-die Game 5.
While the Yankees would’ve still been slight favorites, almost anything can happen in a single major league baseball game. The Orioles had battled the Yankees close all year, as the two split the season series 9-9. Beyond that, Baltimore had gone 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings during the regular season. They had a habit of battling out wins. In order to kill them off, the Yankees would need to truly drive a stake through their heart. Luckily, they had just the man on the mound to do that.
2012 American League Division Series Game 5 - October 12
Final Score: Yankees 3, Orioles 1
Game MVP: CC Sabathia
Taking the ball for the Yankees in the decider was Sabathia. Back in Game 1, he went 8.2 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and a walk. It had been his third postseason start of at least eight innings since coming over to the Yankees, but the first since the title-winning 2009 season. Considering that the two previous games had gone a combined 25 innings, the Yankees really needed him to go deep into the game, as star reliever David Robertson and Rafael Soriano had both thrown multi-inning outings in one of the previous two games. Sabathia delivered.
To start things off, Sabathia retired the first nine Orioles hitters he faced before Nate McClouth recorded a single to start the fourth. Sabathia responded by then immediately retiring the next 12 Baltimore batters.
In the meantime, the Yankees got him some deserved run support. In the fifth, Ibañez continuing his hot playoff hitting. With Mark Teixeira on second, Ibañez sent a bouncing grounder just past Robert Andino, scoring a run. The following inning, the midseason acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki paid dividends when his double scored Derek Jeter to increase the lead. In the seventh, the Yankees added yet another run when Curtis Granderson took a ball into the second deck in right field.
Three runs is a decent lead, but it’s also just small enough that you still have to be careful. That immediately became evident as the Orioles mounted a rally attempt in the eighth.
Leading off, Matt Wieters singled and Manny Machado drew a walk. With the tying run now at the plate, Sabathia struck out Mark Reynolds. However, Lew Ford followed that up with an RBI single to get the Orioles on the board. Andino then added one of his own, loading the bases with still just one out in the inning. Not only was the potential go-ahead run on base, but the tying run was potentially just a bloop single away from scoring. Despite all that, manager Joe Girardi decided his starter was still the man for the job. He was. Facing the top of Baltimore’s order, Sabathia struck out McClouth before getting J.J. Hardy to weakly ground out to end the inning and get out of the jam.
The Yankees couldn’t add any insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, insuring it was still just a two-run game as the heart of the Orioles’ order was set to come up in the ninth. Sabathia was again entrusted to take the mound, and again, he was the correct choice. Sabathia finished off the game and the series with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, getting through the frame on 10 pitches.
The outing would be the first, and only, playoff complete game in Sabathia’s career. Over the nine innings, he allowed just one run on four hits and two walks, striking out nine. There are several other outings from his Yankee career that are in contention for his best and/or most important, but in sheer “ace doing ace things when an ace is needed” this game has a real argument for number one.
The 2012 ALCS famously did not go great in a couple different ways. However, that happening should not dampen what Sabathia did for the Yankees to get them there.