Three of his club-record 51 saves during the regular season came against New York as he pitched to a 1.29 ERA over seven appearances versus the Yankees.
So his losing effort in Sunday’s Game 1 loss - five runs allowed (four earned) in just one-third of an inning - was more a blip than the norm when it comes to Johnson facing the AL East champs.
“It was a really good game, a wellâ€‘pitched game on both sides, and we were fortunate enough to get to a very, very good closer tonight,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Our guys put some good atâ€‘bats on him, but it was an outstanding game.
“He’s pitched well all year. I mean, every once in a while a closer is going to have a situation where they’re not lightsâ€‘out. But you look at the job that he’s done, it’s been truly impressive.”
Russell Martin got New York’s five-run ninth inning rolling by leading it off with a homer off Johnson, something the Yankees catcher wasn’t expecting.
“I definitely wasn’t thinking home run,” Martin said. “I got in a good count to hit in, and I got a pitch that was up in the zone, and he’s the type of guy that doesn’t necessarily make any mistakes over the plate, and in that situation he just left a fastball up, and I put good wood on it.”
The moment the game turned for the Yankees came in the bottom of the eighth.
With the game tied 2-2, J.J. Hardy led off the inning with a double. Had the Orioles moved him over and followed with a sacrifice fly or productive out, they would’ve swiped the lead.
Instead, CC Sabathia worked out of it, striking out Adam Jones, inducing a Matt Wieters foul out and forcing a Mark Reynolds ground out. That served as a springboard for the winning rally.
“Just tried to make pitches,” Sabathia said of wriggling out of the jam. “You know, had the leadoff double by J.J., and Adam Jones had been taking some good swings all night, so I was just trying to keep him off-balance. Ended up getting him with a cutter.
“Joe came out and asked if I wanted to put Wieters on to face the next two guys and I felt like Reynolds had been having some good atâ€‘bats this game and the last, so I just wanted to (pitch to) Wieters and try to get two outs and hopefully get a ground out like I did or just get Reynolds to hit the ball at somebody, and it ended up working out.”
Said Martin: “He just kept making tough pitches and got us through that eighth inning.”
Sabathia went on to finish one out shy of a complete-game win, allowing two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out seven in 8 2/3 innings.
Girardi said the eighth inning was an illustration of what makes Sabathia so good.
“That’s why we have so much belief in him because we know that he is capable of doing that,” Girardi said. “You are looking at two guys, three guys that have given us a lot of trouble this year and he went and got them out and made some real quality pitches.”
Sabathia has always pitched well against the Orioles, going 16-4 with a 3.12 ERA in 25 career starts against them in the regular season.
But this obviously isn’t the same O’s squad he has faced, considering they’re in the postseason for the first time since 1997.
Martin seemed to view this Orioles team as a favorable match-up for Sabathia on this night.
“They’re an aggressive swinging team, and when you have CC on the mound and he’s got a good fastball going, you like to â€‘ sometimes first pitch off-speed, changeup,” Martin said. “His changeup was really good today, so we used it quite a bit, and it’s really deceiving to hitters. It looks like a fastball with the rotation and everything, and when it’s in the good spot especially down in the zone you cannot really do much with it.
“He had a really good changeup today and we used that quite a bit, and then you mix with the fastball in and out you kind of get hitters in between, and that’s what you’re looking for. It seemed like hitters were uncomfortable with CC on the mound tonight.”