CC Sabathia said the conversation went something like this.
Girardi: You good?
Sabathia: I’m good, let’s go.
It was the bottom of the eighth inning, there’d been a leadoff double, and it really seemed that the Yankees manager was thinking about going to his bullpen.
“I said it was his game,” Joe Girardi said. “I wasn’t going to make a move. It was his game to either win or lose, and that’s exactly what he did. He went out and won the game for us.”
Sabathia struggled the past two postseasons, but this was the Yankees ace at his best. The Orioles were already into their bullpen before Sabathia reached 70 pitches, and he finished with two runs, seven strikeouts and one walk through 8.2 innings. For a while, the Yankees were in a familiar game of missed opportunities, but they leaned on their ace to keep the game tied and keep giving this offense chances.
“When CC’s good, he’s as good as anyone in baseball, and he was really good tonight,” Mark Teixeira said. “Healthy and hitting the corners, keeping the ball down. A lot of take-strikes. You can tell when a guy’s really hitting his spots when they’re taking so many strikes, because he’s on the knees, on the black of the plate. That’s tough to do.”
To put it another way:
“He’s bad a**, bro, write that down,” Nick Swisher said. “It’s just a lot of fun to watch him. I wanted him to get that complete game just for the intestinal fortitude that he showed today.”
Sabathia was pulled after a two-out double in the ninth. At that point, what more could he give? The game was under control, the Yankees had their Game 1 victory on the road, and they’d taken full control of this series.
“I wish I could tell you I change my game plan,” Sabathia said. “But I don’t. I pitch to my strength, attacking in and just going off my fastball command, and it was working today. The changeup was working really well. These guys know what I am trying to do. I’ve faced them a lot. I was able just to execute tonight.”
• Whenever this offense would go through a spurt of inconsistency, Russell Martin seemed to be a favorite scapegoat. Tonight, he was the guy to turn it around. “I definitely wasn’t thinking home run,” he said. “I got in a good count to hit in, and I got a pitch that was up in the zone, and he’s the type of guy that doesn’t necessarily make any mistakes over the plate. And in that situation he just left a fastball up, and I put good wood on it.”
• It’s the home run that stole the show, but Martin and Teixeira’s near-impossible play in the fifth might have been just as much of a turning point. “I had already conceded that that was going to be a hit,” Sabathia said. After a leadoff single in the fifth — with the game tied at 2 — Lew Ford seemed to have an infield single before Martin made a lunging scoop and throw, and Teixeira made a tough pick at the bag. If Ford singles there, or Martin’s throw gets past Teixiera, who knows what would have happened that inning?
• Teixeira on the fifth-inning play: That’s what I’m most proud of today. It won’t be talked about much, but if that ball gets by me, it’s second and third, nobody out. They might have a huge inning. I got lucky, it was a really tough play, a really tough hop, I just stuck with it, and it ended up sticking in my glove. But I could not let that ball get by me, because it’s a big inning if I do.”
• Martin on the fifth-inning play: “Off the bat it just kept getting away from me further and further. I just tried to get there in a hurry, and the ball was actually pretty wet, so I picked it up and threw it as quickly as possible. It was kind of in no-man’s land. CC, when he throws, he kind of falls off to, well, his right side and I knew off the bat that I was going to be the one to have to make that play. And Teixeira made a sweet pick like he always does, it seems, at first base over there. It definitely was a big play. It changed that inning.”
• So many missed opportunities early, this would have been another tough-to-swallow loss if the Yankees hadn’t grabbed control late. The first inning was almost a big inning, but the Yankees settled for one run. The fourth inning was almost a big inning, but the Yankee settled for one. The seventh was almost a big inning, but there was an out at the plate and Alex Rodriguez struck out with runners at the corners. “Playoffs are always like that,” Robinson Cano said. “We’ve got a chance, but if there’s anything (that goes wrong), you don’t blame anybody. We never put our head down.”
• It was clear on Teixeira’s ball off the wall that he’s not close to running 100 percent right now. “If I hit that ball 100 times, I’m going to go (for second) 100 times,” Teixeira said. “He made a great play, it bounced right to him, he made a perfect throw. Give him credit, he made a nice play. … (But) it’s disappointing when you cant get a double off that ball. When I’m feeling normal, I should have a double no matter what. But he still made a nice play.”
• Not a perfect offensive game by any means, but Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki each had two hits. Nick Swisher reached base three times. Martin had the big home run to open a five-run ninth inning against one of the best bullpens — and one of the best closers — in the game. “I had a good feeling about the ninth,” Teixeira said. “I don’t know what it was, I just had a really good feeling about the ninth. Johnson has been so good all year, eventually you have to get to him, and tonight was the night.”
• Hard to miss that Rodriguez went 0-for-4 with a walk and a pivotal strikeout. “I’ve seen Alex do some special things in the playoffs,” Teixeira said. “We picked him up today. Tomorrow he might pick us up. That’s what being on a team is all about.”
• Coming off his red-hot final week and a half in the regular season, Cano was 0-for-4 before his game-breaking double in the ninth. “Playoffs are all about getting the hits in the (big) situation,” Cano said. “I know I was 0-for-4 but that’s what you want to go through. I’ll take the 0-for-4 to get a hit in a big situation.”
• Big to get the first win on the road. Even if the Yankees lose tomorrow, they’ll have three games at home, needing two wins. “You want one (win on the road), but now we’re going to get greedy and ask for two,” Teixeira said. “It’s that old cliché, one game at a time. You definitely don’t want to lose the first two here, obviously, then you put yourself behind the 8 ball going back home. One win’s important, but we definitely want that second one tomorrow.”
• As is often the case, the final word goes to Swisher: “I feel like we’ve been in a good spot for about a month now. I feel like we’ve been playing really good baseball, especially the past couple of weeks. To come in here — I mean, this place was rocking — to be able to come in here and battle and fight and pull off those runs in the ninth, it just goes to show you how good our starting pitching is and we fight for all 27.”
Associated Press photos