The first changeup was fouled off by Maicer Izturis. The second was hit to deep center field by Erick Aybar.
“I always stick with it, though,” CC Sabathia said.
At the end of 8.2 innings — after his fourth straight win — Sabathia gave all the credit to the pitch that he was was “terrible” when the game started. The changeup has been an equalizer for the Yankees ace, and tonight the pitch did its job: Keeping hitters honest against Sabathia’s fastball and generating a series of weak popups and ground balls.
“It was huge for me tonight,” Sabathia said. “The only reason I pitched eight innings tonight is because I was able to get some swings early and get some weak fly balls (and) get some ground balls with that pitch. A couple of years ago, I probably would have been in trouble not being able to command it if I didn’t have it early.”
Sabathia has pitched at least eight innings in his past four starts. He’s won seven of his past nine, and tonight he was one out away from his second complete game in the past two weeks. After Alex Rodriguez hit the go-ahead, two-run home run in the sixth inning, Sabathia needed a total of 12 pitches to get through the next two innings. A third of those 12 pitches were changeups, and there’s no telling how many of his fastballs were made more effective because of the change.
“It just keeps the hitters off-balance, and they can’t sit hard on him,” Joe Girardi said. “You know you’re going to get your share of fastballs, but when you have that changeup, it gets them out front and gets some popups. That’s what he did tonight.”
During this West Coast road trip, the Yankees have faced six starting pitchers with a 3.01 ERA or lower. They’ve seen some of the very best in the American League, but none has pitched as well as Sabathia, who’s allowed two earned runs in 16.2 innings.
“CC is amazing,” Alex Rodriguez said. “He’s been kind of a life-saver here for the last two or three years. He’s a guy that starts winning streaks for us and stops losing streaks. He did that last Sunday, and hopefully today was another example of that.”
• Robinson Cano was hilarious talking about Torii Hunter’s tumbling attempt to catch his fourth-inning home run. Hunter nearly made the grab, and he flipped over the wall in the effort. Cano said he would have run straight out to right field if Hunter had robbed him of the homer. “That’s the kind of thing where you say, ‘Go, go, go, go,’” Cano said. “And then you see him jumping. You say, ‘Oh no.’ And then when I see the ball bounce, I say, ‘OK, we’re cool.’”
• Cano actually said he wasn’t happy with the home run at-bat because it should have ended earlier with ball four. “Honestly I don’t like that at-bat because I swing at everything and the other slider was in the dirt,” he said. “So, that’s me chasing and swinging at everything, and that’s not where you want to be. You want to be able to just take those pitches and just take your walks and just swing at better pitches.”
• Rodriguez’s analysis of his home run at-bat was not quite so complex: “Good pitch to hit,” he said. “Right down the middle, and I put a good swing on it.”
• Rodriguez had not hit a home run since May 21, but during that drought he hit .378 with a .417 on-base percentage. “You always want to be productive,” Rodriguez said. “If that means home runs, RBIs, doubles, whatever it takes to help the team win. Over my career, the one thing I’ve never worried about is home runs. I’ve focused on being a good hitter, drawing my walks and being very productive for my offense.”
• Great, great play by Rodriguez in the ninth inning. Sabathia said the diving stop was a game-saving play. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher also made very nice plays tonight. “They were outstanding,” Girardi said. “You think about all those plays, go back to Al and the (near) double in the ninth inning. Maybe it’s a different inning in that situation (if he doesn’t make that play).”
• Girardi on the decision to leave Sabathia in for the ninth: “He was throwing the ball great. I didn’t see any reason to make a change. His pitch count was down which we usually see out of CC. He’s been on a roll.” Girardi said he didn’t want to Sabathia to face Aybar a fifth time, so he went to the closer.
• Sabathia on seeing Mariano Rivera come in to close one of his games: “That’s the best feeling, no matter what the situation is. He’s the greatest.”
• Rivera got the save with one pitch. “Very efficient,” Sabathia said.
• The Yankees tied their season high by moving eight games above .500. They’ve won 12 of their past 17 games.
• The Yankees got their first one-run road win of the season.
• Baseball Reference lists a different hit total for Sam Rice, but according to the Yankees — and Elias — Derek Jeter tied Rice tonight, moving into a share of 28th place all time with career hit No. 2,985. Baseballreference.com says Rice had 2,987.
• Also, Rodriguez tied Mel Ott for ninth place on baseball’s all-time RBI list with No. 1,864. Rivera moved ahead of Goose Gossage for sole possession of 14th on baseball’s games pitched list with his 1,003rd appearance.
• The Yankees have assured themselves a winning record on this road trip, but they’d like to win this series. “Tomorrow’s a big game,” Rodriguez said. “We have to come in here with a lot of adrenaline and hunger to finish off the trio. We haven’t accomplished anything, but for the most part the team has played a little better.”
Associated Press photos