The New York Yankees edged the Baltimore Orioles and the St Louis Cardinals pulled off a stunning final-out comeback to beat the Washington Nationals on Friday, as both teams booked their place in the final four of the Major League Baseball playoffs.
New York downed Baltimore 3-1, thanks in part to a contentious call which denied the Orioles a home run that would have tied the game in the sixth inning.
The Yankees finally prevailed in a season-long fight with their American League East division rivals, with New York’s win on Friday giving them 12 wins and 11 losses against the Orioles this season.
New York progressed to an AL Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, while the Orioles were left to reflect on a bitter end to a renaissance season.
In Washington, the Nationals led 7-5 entering the ninth inning, with the Cardinals down to their final out, but scored four runs to turn the game on its head and win 9-7, putting the reigning World Series champions through to the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
St Louis erased an early six-run deficit to get back to 6-5, before the Nationals added what seemed an insurance run in the eighth to make it 7-5.
In the top of the ninth, the Cardinals were down to their final out when Daniel Descalso produced a tying two-run single, then Pete Kozma stunned the Nationals record crowd with another two-run hit.
It was the largest comeback ever in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS LLC. No other club had come back from more than four down.
“We knew we had a lot of game left after they scored six. Nobody went up there trying to hit a six-run homer,” Descalso said. “We needed to scratch and claw and get ourselves back in the game.”
St Louis have now won six straight games when facing elimination in playoffs, including the final two games of last year’s World Series.
Washington had scored three runs on just seven pitches in a brilliant start to the game, and were 6-0 up inside three innings.
The Cardinals chipped away, with one run in the fourth, a pair in the fifth, another in the seventh, then a homer in the eighth to get back to 6-5, setting the stage for the final inning theatrics.
In New York, C.C. Sabathia pitched a complete game for the Yankees, a career first.
Raul Ibanez hit a go-ahead single in the fifth inning off Jason Hammel and Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI double in the sixth.
Curtis Granderson extended the lead to 3-0 with a second-deck solo home run in the seventh inning as the Yankees advanced despite their decision to bench slumping third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Baltimore’s disallowed homer echoed a similar decision at the old Yankee Stadium in the 1996 AL championship opener.
This time, with the Orioles trailing 1-0 in the sixth, McLouth sent a towering shot 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 five of the umpires went down a tunnel to examine the images. When they ran back onto the field about two minutes later, they didn’t make any signal — meaning the original call stood. McLouth struck out on the next pitch, ending the inning.
Sabathia held Baltimore in check, but the visitors did threaten in the eighth, loading the bases with only one out.
McLouth struck out and J.J. Hardy hit a slow three-hopper to shortstop that Derek Jeter charged and gloved elegantly before throwing to first just in time. Sabathia pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.
While there were celebrations in the Yankees clubhouse, there also would have been concern at the form of Rodriguez, who was benched in a playoff game for the first time in his career, having been hitless in 12 at-bats against right-handed pitchers with nine strikeouts.