In return to hill, Hammel gives Orioles gutsy effort
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TIMORE -- A month ago, Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel didn't know if he would pitch again this season.
His team extended its run long enough to give him a chance on Sunday night at Camden Yards, where Hammel started Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. Hammel, the victim of persistent right knee problems, repaid the club by plowing through a solid, if somewhat bumpy 5 2/3 innings.
In his first appearance since Sept. 11 and third since July 13, the seven-year veteran kept pace with Yankees ace CC Sabathia and kept Baltimore in the game. He gave up two runs and picked up a no-decision in an eventual 7-2 loss.
"Hammel threw the ball well," catcher Matt Wieters said. "He wasn't quite as polished as I've seen him before, but [for his] first time out there in a long time, he did a great job."
Hammel was an AL Final Vote candidate for the All-Star Game, but underwent right knee surgery in July and missed almost two months. He started only twice after his return, re-injuring the joint on Sept. 11 against the Rays.
By the time Hammel took the mound for his second career postseason start on Sunday, it was exactly two months since he last exceeded five innings or 82 pitches in an outing. Facing a potent Yankees lineup in a pressure-packed setting, he pushed his way through 112 pitches, including 70 strikes. He wound up three pitches short of matching his season high.
"Honestly it took me until the end of the third inning until I felt strong and my timing was there and felt like I was me again," Hammel said. "The knee felt great. I was really happy about that and then as I got stronger, the command was better and the feel was better, too."
Hammel said the adrenaline of the situation muted any pain in his knee, and he didn't lack velocity, pumping in his fastball at 93-94 mph for much of the night. He mixed in some sliders and changeups with his assortment of two- and four-seamers and produced a healthy ratio of six groundouts to two flyouts, while striking out five.
The Yankees drew four walks -- one intentional -- and fouled off 30 pitches.
"It was typical Yankees right there -- deep counts, patient, and got me out of the game earlier than I wanted to," Hammel said.
New York collected half of its hitd total against Hammel right away, as Derek Jeter's leadoff single and Ichiro Suzuki's RBI double seemed to portend a short night for the O's starter. But Wieters caught Ichiro stealing third -- one of two big outs on the bases for the Yankees -- and Hammel escaped further damage.
His outing appeared in jeopardy again during a 29-pitch fourth, but Hammel caught a break when Mark Teixeira narrowly missed a three-run homer off the right-field wall and settled for an RBI single when he was thrown out at second. Hammel induced a flyout from Russell Martin to strand runners on first and third.
Manager Buck Showalter finally came with the hook after Nick Swisher's two-out single in the sixth, and Hammel walked off the mound to a rousing ovation from the largest crowd of the season at Camden Yards. Now Hammel will have to rely on his teammates once more if he's going to get a chance to pitch in this environment again this month.
"For three months I sat there and watched and the guys did a hell of a job to just extend the season so I could get another chance to work," he said. "It's very important, but honestly -- I want to be able to pitch again. That's obvious.
"I'm perfectly comfortable with these guys going out and getting us to that next position where I can get another shot, but I can't win five games. It's a team effort. It's not just me. I'm ready whenever they want me and I'll do whatever I need to do. It's something we're going to shoot for."