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YORK -- Jason Hammel certainly had plenty of time to think this season. Arthroscopic surgery on his right knee sidelined him from mid-July until September, and residual discomfort upon his return allowed him to make just two starts before missing the remainder of the year.
But it's hard to believe -- even in his craziest scenarios -- that he pictured himself standing where he will on Friday.
Hammel, who got the nod in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, will take the hill on Friday in the decisive Game 5 opposite Yankees ace CC Sabathia. On the line is his team's season -- a franchise eager for its first postseason series victory since 1997.
"It's obviously an honor to be the one toeing the slab," Hammel said. "But it's been a team effort to get here. It's been a lot of fun to watch the three months that I've been down, and the guys have pushed through, and we've played toe-to-toe with everybody all the way through, from the get-go. We're very confident that we can go ahead and win one more."
Key stat: Hammel hasn't won since June 22, a span of seven starts
Key stat: Sabathia threw 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball with seven strikeouts in Game 1 win
At Yankee Stadium
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA
2012: 13 GS, 7-4, 2.69 ERA Career: 60 GS, 33-11, 2.99 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.94 ERA Career: 14 G, 8 GS, 1-3, 6.20 ERA
2012: 3 GS, 0-2, 6.38 ERA Career: 25 GS, 16-4, 3.12 ERA
Loves to face: Russell Martin: 1-for-9, 2 K's Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez: 8-for-22 (.364), 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1.371 OPS
Loves to face: Matt Wieters: 5-for-24 (.208), 1 HR, 8 K's Hates to face: Adam Jones: 14-for-41 (.341), 3 HR, 10 RBI, 1.059 OPS
Why he'll win: Has allowed just three runs over his last 10 2/3 innings against the Yankees
Why he'll win: Has gone at least eight innings in four consecutive starts, winning three of them
Pitcher beware: Yankees hitters are batting .305 against him with nine HRs and .877 OPS over 151 at-bats
Pitcher beware: Has a 4.56 ERA in 17 career postseason games
Bottom line: Needs to work deep -- O's relievers have thrown 11 1/3 innings over past two games
Bottom line: Yankees turn to ace in an elimination game
Hammel held the Yankees to two runs in 5 2/3 innings in Game 1, deserving of a standing ovation but also one big sigh of relief. When his knee acted up in mid-September, there was doubt that he'd be ready to go for the postseason, but the right-hander removed all of it with his performance on Sunday night.
"Just to get through that healthy, I really didn't know what to expect," Hammel said. "I knew that I had stayed on top of what I needed to do to be prepared, and things went well. We stayed with that same program, and the training staff has done an outstanding job to get me feeling about as good as I've felt in the last three or four months. It's definitely going to help out [on Friday]."
Now that he knows he can pitch, the time off plays into his favor. Hammel called the time he missed a "three-month vacation" -- a working one, of course. But his arm is well-rested as a result -- he's logged just 123 2/3 innings this season -- and the Orioles see that as an advantage.
"I think it's almost in his favor," manager Buck Showalter said. "He's got some bullets left where a lot of people may not."
Hammel worked out at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and reported no issues with his knee. And with the knee out of mind, he said the focus shifts to being as efficient as possible with his pitches. Hammel threw 112 pitches in Game 1, walking four and scattering as many hits.
But regardless, he held the Yankees in check when they had their ace on the mound, a performance that didn't go unnoticed despite what was ultimately a 7-2 Orioles loss.
"He pitched a great game last time out," Sabathia said. "Like I said, it's a great team over there. We've battled all year. I look forward to it being a good game."
The Yankees and Orioles battled for the top spot in the AL East for the entire regular season, and after splitting the first four games of the ALDS have split the season series at 11 games apiece. It's only fitting that it will all come down to one game.
"It is all or nothing, but there's no reason to pressure ourselves anymore," Hammel said. "We've done this a million times this year. It seems like we've played these guys to a one-run game every time out. It's really nothing new.
"It's going to be a test for both sides, and honestly, it's just going to be a good ballgame."