For a moment, it seemed as if all of the positives — most importantly CC Sabathia’s best start of the season — would be wasted. CC turned in his most dominant outing of the season — an eight-inning, 11 strikeout gem — but he lost out on his chance to earn the win when Brandon Moss teed off on Rafael Soriano to tie the game in the ninth.
But with one swing of the bat, Russell Martin ensured that the Yankees’ ace would walk out of here with a smile on his face, as Martin led off the 10th inning with a solo homer to left, giving the Yankees a 2-1 win and just their third walk-off hit of the season.
“We’ve got a day game tomorrow, so I was trying to get out of here as quick as possible,” Martin said with a coy smile.
CC was the story of the game, responding to questions about his somewhat pedestrian numbers of late with a colossal performance. He completely shut the Oakland A’s down, maintaining a 1-0 lead for the Yanks before giving way to Soriano in the ninth.
“That’s just about as good as it gets,” Martin said. “CC was phenomenal tonight, and it’s good to see. He had good life on his fastball. We were talking about maybe he had some injury problems or whatever, but he looked fresh tonight.”
A couple of weeks ago, this was exactly the type of game that the Yankees were losing, but this was a shining example of how they’ve turned things around. An extra inning loss would have been deflating, dropping them into a tie with the Baltimore Orioles once again. But this walk-off win should energize this team with 13 games to play.
“We’re just going to battle to the end,” Martin said. “We don’t want to keep our heads down. Everybody’s human. Sori has been having a great year for us, and that’s what good teams do. We get each other’s back and find ways to win, and that’s what we did tonight.”
• We’ll start with CC, before we get into Martin’s heroics. What was the biggest difference for the big lefty tonight? Pretty much everything. He began the game by striking out the side in the first inning for the first time all season, and that carried him through the rest of the game. He had pretty much all of his pitches working (the slider was especially effective tonight), and it was clear with all of the swings-and-misses he was generating. An extremely encouraging sign for the Yankees as the postseason approaches. “Outstanding,” Joe Girardi said of CC’s outing. “I think it was important for him. It’s important for us.”
• CC had a no-hitter going through five innings, but Stephen Drew ended his bid for the no-no with a leadoff single in the sixth. In eight innings, CC only allowed three hits. “Stephen Drew put a good sign on it,” CC said. “I made a bad pitch trying to get in.”
• CC said he felt “the same” as he has in recent starts, it was just a matter of making quality pitches in big spots. “I’ve been feeling pretty good; just a couple of situations where I wasn’t able to make pitches,” he said. “(Tonight) my breaking ball was good, changeup was good, and I was making better pitches with two strikes.”
• According to Martin, it all starts with CC’s fastball. His slider, changeup and sinker can all be plus pitches, but he needs to have his fastball working for those pitches to be as effective as they can be. “More life on his fastball,” Martin said when asked what the biggest difference was compared to recent starts. “I’ve always said, when he has more life on his fastball… hitters have to get the bat started a little earlier to catch up, and it makes his changeup better. Once they feel like they need to cheat a little bit to get to the fastball, you can throw some sinkers down and away and get ground balls and quick outs. For CC, I think it’s been tough for him to put guys away lately, and today he had the stuff to put guys away… He just looked like he was in control.”
• In the first inning, CC’s velocity was in the low-90s. But later in the game, it was consistently in the mid-90s. “That’s a good sign, to me,” Girardi said. “It just means that he was getting stronger, and that’s not unusual for CC. That’s what we’re used to seeing.”
• CC downplayed the notion that the added zip on his fastball contributed to his success. “Velocity will come and go,” he said. “It’s about commanding pitches.”
• Martin also talked about how important it was for CC to have a start that helps him regain his swagger, so to speak. “He’s our ace, he’s our horse, so you want him feeling good about himself and confident,” Martin said. “He definitely needed this start, just for himself. It’s getting that time of the year where you want your aces to be feeling good.”
• There were a few murmurs on Twitter about Girardi’s decision not to send CC out for the ninth, but I thought it was pretty much a no-brainer. The eighth was the first inning in which CC got into a little trouble, loading the bases when he hit Jonny Gomes with a pitch with two outs, but he got out of by getting Josh Reddick to fly out to left. That sent him out on a high-note, but it was also his most stressful inning. At 113 pitches, it would have been playing with fire to send him back out. “At that point I thought he had worked pretty hard the last two innings, and at some point I was probably going to have make a change,” Girardi said. “You prefer to give a guy a clean inning.”
• It’s hard to fault Soriano because he’s arguably been the best closer in baseball this season. That was only his fourth blown save in 46 tries, which shows how good he’s been (and how much he’s been used) since taking over for Mariano Rivera. After picking up two saves in one day on Wednesday, Girardi thought he may have been a little gassed tonight. “His arm was maybe a little dead today,” Girardi said. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to get from him, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from Robby, and if I had to bring Boone in, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from him. But I give Sori a lot of credit. He ended up getting out of the inning and giving us a chance to win the game.”
• The pitch that Moss hit out was a flat slider, according to Martin. “They weren’t all as sharp,” Martin said of Soriano’s out-pitch. “He threw some good ones, and he threw some that weren’t as sharp. The one that Moss hit, it seemed like it was heading for a good spot, and it just didn’t have that same tightness that the other ones had.”
• As for Martin’s final at-bat, here’s what he said about his approach against Sean Doolittle. “I watched him in previous at-bats, and it looked like guys were getting beat by his fastball a little bit,”he said. “Kevin (Long) told me he was a bit sneaky, and he just told me to get the head out, and I listened to him. I got a fastball, probably where he did not want to leave it – it was belt high – and I just put a good swing on it.”
• Martin’s batting average is still pretty pitiful, but he’s really turned things around in the past couple of months. His at-bats have gotten much better, he’s come up with some big hits, and he does a great job of handling this pitching staff. On a team filled with stars, his workmen-like approach seems to mean a lot in the clubhouse. “Numbers don’t really say so, but Russell has been so crucial of late,” Nick Swisher said.
• If you noticed through all of the excitement, Martin absolutely launched his batting helmet before he crossed home plate. Here’s why: “That might be a record for the longest helmet toss,” he said with a laugh. “I wanted to see if Al would go get it – because Al always has something about chasing helmets – and he went and got it.”
• A’s starter Jarrod Parker was also dealing, allowing just one run on six hits while striking out seven in eight innings of work. The Yankees got their lone run off of Parker in the bottom of the fourth, when Nick Swisher led off with a single, advancing to third two batters later on a single from Alex Rodriguez. Curtis Granderson drove Swisher in with a sac fly to left for his team-leading 94th RBI of the season, but that would be the extent of the Yankees’ damage.
• Derek Jeter singled in the bottom of the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, while Ichiro Suzuki went 2 for 3 with a stolen base. Ichiro has been on a torrid pace of late, combining to go 11 for his last 15 in the past four games.
• I’ll give the final word to Girardi, who talked about how the Yankees have turned things around recently. They’ve won six in a row, eight of their last nine and 11 of their last 15. Things were a bit panicky around here recently (meaning amongst the fans, because I never really got that sense in the clubhouse), but now the momentum is building. With CC pitching the way that he did tonight and the starting rotation finally completely healthy, the pieces seem to be falling into place at the perfect time. “We’ve been pitching pretty well,” Girardi said. “Our starters have been pitching pretty well in this run that we’ve had. We’ve gotten some clutch hits. We’ve gotten a little bit healthier, bullpen has been good. It’s been a combination of a lot of things.”
Associated Press photos