All around him there was champagne flying and Labatt Blue pouring, and in the middle of that chaos, Nick Swisher summed up the Yankees night.
“Two words,” he said. “Cy Young.”
CC Sabathia was everything for the Yankees tonight. Joe Girardi called him tremendous. Alex Rodriguez called him a dream. Mark Teixeira called him dominant.
“That’s what we needed,” Derek Jeter said. “CC’s pretty much been doing that the whole year. We needed him to step up for a big game and he came through for us. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Yankees left nothing to chance tonight. They sent Sabathia to the mound, started every one of their regulars and used Mariano Rivera for the final two outs. This was the night to clinch, and the Yankees got it done without an RBI hit.
“Tonight we did some things we hadn’t been doing the past three weeks,” Rodriguez said.
They advanced runners and scored every one that got to third base with fewer than two outs. The lineup wasn’t overwhelming. It was simply efficient. Sabathia handled the overwhelming part: 8.1 innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts. It was his 21st win.
Afterward, Girardi said the Yankees haven’t finalized many plans for the postseason. He announced only one playoff decision: Sabathia will pitch Game 1.
“That,” he said, “you can bank on.”
Here’s Sabathia speaking in a predictably rowdy clubhouse.
• Andy Pettitte will not start tomorrow. Javier Vazquez will. Pettitte said he only knows he’ll be pitching in Boston. He doesn’t know which game.
• It’s pretty obvious Sabathia will not start Sunday in Boston. “If you’re pitching on Wednesday, you can’t really start this weekend,” Girardi said. Whether Sabathia will pitch an inning or two out of the bullpen remains unknown. Same for Phil Hughes.
• Girardi made it clear he will rest some players these final four games. “I have to make sure our guys are strong,” he said. “I still want our division and I still want home field advantage, but I can see there are some tired bodies out there.”
• The players, of course, want to play. “We’ve got Thursday off don’t we,” Jeter said. Rodriguez, Swisher and Teixeira all said they were hoping to keep pushing through to the end, but I can only imagine the regret if a key player were hurt.
• Having blown a save in three of his past six outings, Mariano Rivera got the final two outs on six pitches. “We felt better about it,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to make sure, but you usually don’t forget how to hit in a couple of months, you don’t forget how to pitch either.” I’m pretty sure Girardi meant weeks, not months.
• Sabathia said his offspeed stuff was especially good tonight, and he was happy with his ability to pitch to both sides of the plate. That’s about as in depth as Sabathia gets in a group setting. Bottom line, he was impressive when the Yankees needed him to be. “I feel like I need to keep the other team at bay every time out,” he said.
• The celebration wasn’t as wild as any of last year’s postseason celebrations, but the first-timers — and Swisher — seemed to especially enjoy it. “There are no freebees so I think you can’t say you’re too cool for this first step,” Rodriguez said.
• Even the guys who had been there time and time again seemed to enjoy another sure-thing trip to the postseason. “Always a relief when you get into the playoffs, I don’t care what year it is,” Jeter said. “… This is a celebration of a 162-game schedule, not just the last two weeks. I think the team deserves to celebrate.”
• Think this year’s team is as good as last year’s? “I really do,” Pettitte said. “We’ve got pretty much the same team. I feel good about our bullpen. Obviously when you’ve got CC leading our rotation you’ve got to feel good about that. How could you not? I feel good about what we’re doing, I really do. I don’t think anybody wants to face our lineup.”
• Pettitte was happy to have his start pushed back. He said it’s better for him to get extra rest now and pitch on normal rest in the division series. “That definitely works out a lot better for sure,” he said.
• Rodriguez was one of the last guys any of the writers spotted in the clubhouse. Romulo Sanchez and Andrew Brackman were drenched, but Rodriguez was almost completely dry. “Nobody messes with the old guys any more,” he said. “It’s all about the young guys.”
Associated Press photos. The top is Jeter getting doused. Next is Brett Gardner scoring and Sabathia pitching.