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Associated Press
New York’s CC Sabathia celebrates Friday during his complete-game win over Baltimore.

Ace helps Yankees advance to ALCS

– 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.

Again.

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.”

Sabathia, who improved to 4-0 in his last eight postseason starts, didn’t allow an extra-base hit. He 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.

“He’s our go-to guy,” Derek Jeter said. “He’s been our go-to guy since he’s been here.”

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