BALTIMORE - For eight innings, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles staged a magnificent duel worthy of two division foes that split 18 games during the regular season and finished two games apart in the standings.
Then the Yankees brushed aside the upstart, inexperienced newcomers and crashed a party 15 years in the making.
Russell Martin led off the ninth inning with a tiebreaking home run off Jim Johnson, C.C. Sabathia turned in a sparkling pitching night and the Yankees pulled away to a 7-2 victory Sunday in the opener of their AL divisional series.
Sabathia allowed two runs and eight hits in 8 2/3 innings to help the Yankees take the edge off the Orioles' first home playoff game since 1997. The husky left-hander went 0-2 in three starts against Baltimore during the regular season, but in this one he returned to form and improved his lifetime record against the Orioles to 17-4.
"Fastball command was good, worked off that," Sabathia said. "Throwing the ball pretty good getting the corners. Tried to stay out there and make some pitches."
Sabathia is 6-1 with the Yankees in the postseason, 4-0 in the division series.
With the score 2-all, Martin drove a 2-0 pitch from Johnson into the left-field seats. It was the first of four straight hits off Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves. Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter followed with singles, Ichiro Suzuki drove in a run with a swinging bunt and one out later, Robinson Cano hit a two-run double.
In his seven prior appearances against New York, Johnson allowed one run in seven innings and had three saves. Nick Swisher capped the five-run ninth with a sacrifice fly off Tommy Hunter.
"It's tough. It's just tough going, period," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Jimmy has been great for us all year and will be again. Tonight just wasn't his night."
Game 2 will be played tonight.
The start of Sunday's game was delayed by rain for 2 hours 26 minutes, and that did nothing to lessen the enthusiasm of the 47,841 fans who endured 14 straight losing seasons while waiting for the O's to play a postseason game at Camden Yards.
For eight innings, the sellout crowd was treated to tense duel.
Baltimore left seven on base and went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, including when Sabino High grad J.J. Hardy started the Baltimore eighth with a double. He didn't advance.
"Being able to get out of that with a tie and give us a chance to get up and score some runs, which we did, was just a big spot," Sabathia said.
Orioles starter Jason Hammel allowed two runs, four hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. The righty underwent knee surgery in July and returned to pitch two games in September before his right knee began to bother him again. Hammel donned a knee brace and gave Baltimore a solid 112-pitch outing in his first start in nearly a month.
"We stayed in as long as we could," Orioles right fielder Chris Davis said. "We're finding out what playoff baseball is all about. You've got to capitalize on every opportunity that you give yourself and we weren't able to do that."
Then again, it's tough to mount a sustained rally against Sabathia.
"He just kind of wore us down," Davis said.
• NLDS: Nationals at Cardinals, 1:30 p.m., TBS
• ALDS: Yankees at Orioles, 5 p.m., TBS