NEW YORK — CC Sabathia turned and looked over his right shoulder, watching intently after Nate McLouth turned on a 93 mph fastball and sent it soaring down the right-field line.
Yankees-Orioles. Playoffs. Disputed home run.
McLouth’s long drive was called foul by the slimmest of margins — hello, Jeffrey Maier — and New York hung on to beat Baltimore 3-1 Friday in the deciding Game 5 of the AL division series.
Sixteen years later, the Orioles still can’t find the right stuff in the Bronx.
With Alex Rodriguez benched, the Yankees advanced to the AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers, starting tonight in the Bronx.
“It is still a long way to go," Sabathia said. “I still got hopefully three or four more starts. So the job is not done yet."
Sabathia pitched a four-hitter, wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning for his first complete game in 17 postseason starts, and the first for the Yankees since Roger Clemens in 2000.
Yet it was another piece of history that this game evoked.
The Orioles were in a foul mood, stung on a close play in right that echoed what happened across the street at the old Yankee Stadium in the 1996 AL championship opener, on a fly ball involving the young Maier that still stirs emotions in Baltimore.
This time, with the Orioles trailing 1-0 in the sixth, McLouth sent a 3-1 pitch deep. Eyes turned to right field umpire Fieldin Culbreth, who demonstrably waved foul with both arms.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter jogged onto the field to ask for a video review, and four umpires went down a tunnel on the third-base side to examine the images on a screen near their dressing room. 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.
“I saw it go to the right of the pole," Culbreth said. “There is netting there and it didn’t touch the netting. It did not change direction," he added, indicating he did not think the ball grazed the pole.
Added crew chief Brian Gorman: “We saw the same thing on the replay. There was no evidence to overturn the decision."
Showalter? Not sure.
“I couldn’t tell. It was real close," he said.
McLouth wondered, too, what the umps would decide.
“It started off fair and it was just hooking a little bit. I thought it was foul just in game speed," McLouth said. “A couple of people mentioned it might’ve ticked the pole, but he was way closer than I was and I was satisfied after they went down and looked at the replay that it was foul."
That’s the way Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher saw it.
“I didn’t see any redirection," he said. “If it had hit, I would have been the first to know."
Steven Ellis, a fan from the Broad Channel section of Queens, caught the ball with his Yankee cap in the second deck.
“It was foul all the way, never hit the pole," he said.
Ada Cruz, sitting behind Ellis, added: “No way, no way. I watched it and he caught it."
A stadium usher who wouldn’t give his name, however, said he saw the ball glance off the pole.
Back in 1996, the 12-year-old Maier reached over the wall above right fielder Tony Tarasco and deflected Derek Jeter’s fly ball. Umpire Richie Garcia called it a home run, which tied the score 4-all in the eighth inning, and the Yankees went on to win in the 11th.
“Just watching at home, I promise," Maier texted to The Associated Press after this play.
Sabathia defeated the Orioles for the second time in six days, Raul Ibanez hit a go-ahead single in the fifth off Jason Hammel after former Baltimore high school star Mark Teixeira singled and swiped second in a rare steal. Diving second baseman Robert Andino just missed gloving Ibanez’s hit.
Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI double off the right-center field wall in the sixth. Curtis Granderson boosted the lead to 3-0 with a second-deck solo homer against Troy Patton in the seventh.
Sabathia, who improved to 4-0 in his past eight postseason starts, didn’t allow an extra-base hit. He struck out eight and walked two and matched his season high of 121 pitches.
“He didn’t pitch all five, but it certainly felt like it, didn’t it?" Showalter said.
Since going winless in four straight starts in late August and early September, Sabathia is 4-0 with a 1.51 ERA in five outings.
“He’s our go-to guy," Jeter said. “He’s been our go-to guy since he’s been here."
Sabathia took a one-hit shutout into the eighth but allowed Matt Wieters’ leadoff single and Manny Machado’s walk. Mark Reynolds struck out, and Lew Ford — starting at DH in place of Jim Thome — hit an RBI single.
Andino hit a bouncer to the third-base side that Sabathia gloved, but Eric Chavez left third uncovered and Sabathia’s throw to second was late, leaving the bases loaded. With David Robertson warming up in the New York bullpen, McLouth struck out on a changeup and Sabathia escaped when J.J. Hardy hit a slow three-hopper to shortstop that Jeter, playing on a sore left ankle, charged and gloved elegantly before throwing to first just in time.
Sabathia pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, finishing a 121-pitch effort as Wieters hit a comebacker.