Russell Martin didn't hit much this season, but he did hit 21 homers and had a knack for hitting them when they would count the most.
That knack has extended to the postseason. The Yankees took Game One of the ALDS over the Orioles 7-2 after Martin snapped a tie in the top of the ninth inning with a home run to left field off of Jim Johnson.
The Orioles closer had not allowed a home run since June 5 before Martin connected to make a winner out of CC Sabathia on a night that seemed destined to wind up as another Yankee loss chalked up to missed opportunities. The Yankees started off predicatably bad on that front, but finished with a flourish in the ninth.
Raul Ibanez singled after Martin's homer, Derek Jeter took an inside pitch the other way with Ibanez moving and Ichiro Suzuki hit a nubber off the first base line that scored pinch runner Eduardo Nunez. After one of A-Rod's three strikeouts, Robinson Cano doubled home Jeter and Ichiro to blow the game open and send Johnson to the showers.
There's a different tension that comes with playing a team known for winning games by slim margins in the final innings instead of being the team known for doing that. There hasn't been a tremendous amount of Yankee lightning this year as the team only won once when trailing after eight innings and the biggest reason the Orioles are here is because of their record in close games.
Every moment felt like it could be the one that gave the Orioles the next entry in the storybook they've written this season. None more so than a leadoff double by J.J. Hardy in the eighth, putting Sabathia on the spot against the heart of the Orioles lineup.
Sabathia was up to the task. He struck out Adam Jones, broke Matt Wieters' bat on a foul pop to first and then got Mark Reynolds to ground to Jeter to end the inning.
It was like that all night as Sabathia continued the run of outstanding pitching that got underway just before the season ended. He left after getting two outs in the ninth as the author of a seven strikeout, one walk gem that makes the Yankees even more dangerous in Game Two thanks to a fully rested bullpen.
That eighth inning created a little rip in the Orioles' mystique and then Martin tore a hole a mile wide with his blast off of Johnson. Suddenly, the Yankees are the team that comes up big at the biggest moments and the Orioles are facing the possibility of being down 2-0 with three games in the Bronx.
Not bad for a half-inning's worth of work from an offense that seemed doomed to send this game to the bin reserved for losses caused by failure to exploit opportunities. The Yankees failed all night with runners on, squandered scoring chances with poor baserunning by Ichiro and Mark Teixeira and blew another chance to put up runs by having Jeter bunt with two on and none out in the seventh.
Thanks to Sabathia, they never got hurt by their failure to tack on runs early. Still, it looked like Buck Showalter was pressing every button correctly, from starting Jason Hammel after a month on the shelf to his every bullpen move to snuff a rally.
Then everything went sideways for the Orioles, just as it has gone sideways for so many other Yankee playoff opponents over the years. The series is still in play -- remember Game One of the 2010 ALCS for a similar game that turned out not to be predictive -- but the Yankees drew a significant amount of first blood on Sunday night.
And they also provided a reminder that while the Orioles have had a nice year with the late inning magic, the Yankees practically invented it.