Sabathia preserves bullpen for Game 2

CC Sabathia retold the conversations he had with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi in the final two innings of Sunday night’s opening game of the American League Division Series.

“I’m good, let’s go,” the massive Yankees ace said he told his manager.

Girardi bought the line a couple of times — even before a five-run Yanks’ rally in the ninth — and Sabathia was allowed to go to the Camden Yards mound again in search of his first career postseason complete game. When Girardi approached the mound after Baltimore’s Lew Ford doubled with two outs, Girardi was immune to the plea and closer David Robertson recorded the last out in 7-2 Game 1 victory.

It’s a win that not only gives the Yanks an early edge on the road versus the Orioles in a best-of-five series, but Sabathia’s longevity in Game 1 also preserves a Yankees bullpen that played its first playoff game without Mariano Rivera (torn ACL) since 1981.

“Any time you can give your bullpen a rest, it helps,” Girardi said. “We had had three days off, so it wasn’t necessary to do it. But he was throwing the ball so well, I continued to stay with him. It allows us to use our bullpen a lot tomorrow, though.”

In contrast, the Orioles used six relievers. That list included Jim Johnson, who didn’t look like the same closer who paced the majors and set a franchise mark with 51 saves.

Johnson gave up a home run to Russell Martin and allowed four more hits and four runs. (He was tagged with a fifth earned run on a Mark Teixeira sacrifice fly as reliever Tommy Hunter came in to record the final two outs.) The lone bright spot was a strikeout of Alex Rodriguez, who could be in for another rocky postseason if his 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance is an indicator.

“There’s not much margin for error,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Jimmy has been great for us all year and will be again. Tonight just wasn’t his night. … Those things happen.”

The Orioles, in their first home playoff game since the ALCS against the Yankees in 1997, had their sellout crowd in a frenzy after a two-run single by Nate McLouth in the third put Baltimore up 2-1.

“This is an amazing ballpark, especially when it’s packed like this,” Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. “It’s really fun to play these games. That crowd was rowdy early. They had the orange towels going.”

The fervor quieted an inning later after a ball hit by Teixeira that was just feet from being a home run. The ball bounced off the top of the right field wall and Teixeira was thrown out at second, but Rodriguez scored from second on the play to tie it 2-2.

Sabathia had to wait a while to get some more help.

“He was awesome,” Teixeira said. “He got every big out he needed. He kept us in the game. We didn’t decide to score any runs until the ninth inning for him. I’m glad he got the win. He deserved it.”

In the meantime, Sabathia largely avoided trouble. He did have two runners on in the sixth, but that was with two outs and he got Chris Davis to fly out. Sabathia allowed a leadoff double in the eighth before he struck out Adam Jones and then got Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds to pop out and ground out, respectively.

Not bad for a pitcher who has struggled at times this season and spent part of the season on the DL with elbow tendonitis. He also missed starts due to a groin issue.

His arm was plenty good enough to throw a first pump at the end of the eighth as well.

“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. “I normally try not to show a lot of emotion, but it just came out.”

Sabathia’s seventh and final strikeout of the night resulted in the second out of the ninth as he got Davis swinging. No, he wasn’t able to get that last out — not that it matters.

His 8-2/3 innings did something more grand: It put the Yanks closer to a 28th World Series championship.