CC Sabathia was not the Yankees most reliable starter this season. He’s said so himself. He certainly wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t all of those things the Yankees have come expect. He wasn’t all the things that Sabathia expects.
Around here, though, seasons aren’t defined in July and August. Around here, seasons are defined by moments like this.
“It is what I’m here for,” Sabathia said. “It is what I play the game for. I guess I should feel, you know, a little pressure or something like that, but I don’t. I mean, I feel like that every time out. It can be Game 1, it can be Game 15, it don’t matter. You know, I feel like I need to go out and win every time out, and I think that takes a lot of pressure off me, the outside pressure off me. I put so much pressure on myself to go out and perform well that I expect it.”
Three runs qualified as a breakout performance for the Yankees offense, but it wasn’t enough offense to take the pressure off. The bats had already cold this series, and Sabathia had to know that coming into tonight’s all-or-nothing Game 5. The Yankees could hope for a big night from the lineup, but the only thing they could count on was Sabathia.
Through seven innings, Sabathia faced one over the minimum. In the eighth, he got into trouble then left the bases loaded. On the bench before the ninth, there was no conversation with manager Joe Girardi. Sabathia was going back out there, no questions asked.
“He has that confidence and he has that swagger on the mound right now,” Russell Martin said.
The only moment of weakness was followed by his finest hour. That eighth inning seemed to be getting away from him, and the Yankees had Dave Robertson getting loose in the bullpen. Three base hits in the inning, a walk, bases loaded with no outs and the top of the order coming up.
“I think in 2007 my emotions got the best of me definitely in the playoffs, and I didn’t have a good run,” Sabathia said. “But the older I have gotten, the better I have got, I think. … I was trying to back off a little bit and not try to overthrow and leave the ball over the plate (in the eighth). After I got a couple of runners on, that went out the window, and I was back to being fired up and trying to be aggressive with fastballs. Obviously that (backing off) didn’t work, and I was all over the place. So that late in the game, in that situation, I can go ahead and let it go and just be aggressive.”
Controlling emotions and limiting emotions aren’t always the same thing. Sabathia used his when he needed them.
“That performance wasn’t only a tremendous talent, that performance was a tremendous warrior, a tremendous competitor,” Raul Ibanez said. “He willed that to happen.”
• This will be the Yankees 10th ALCS appearance in the past 17 seasons since 1996. What got them there? The rotation went 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA and the pitching staff never allowed more than three runs. “Some nights the bats carry the pitchers, some nights the pitchers carry the bats,” Mark Teixeira said. “This series it was the pitchers carrying us, so we’re going to try to do less of that next series and try to score some runs.”
• Three hits in the fifth inning was the Yankees most in a single inning since the ninth inning of Game 1. They did not hae an inning in which they scored more than one run over the final four games of the series. “When you play in the playoffs, you’re not going to have a lot of eight-run games, nine-run games,” Derek Jeter said. “These were close games, and fortunately for us, we came out on top today.”
• Strange situation with ALCS Game 1 coming tomorrow. Not much time to think about things and get the roster figured out, and the roster is a question with no set Game 2 starter and a Tigers rotation full of right-handers. “I usually say I am going to worry about one day at a time,” Girardi said. “I am going to worry about tonight. … We’ll sit down and talk tonight actually. It will be (Andy) Pettitte tomorrow. That’s all I have got for you.”
• Did Girardi consider pinch hitting with Alex Rodriguez when Eric Chavez came up against the lefty Troy Patton in the seventh? “They would have brought the righty in at that point,” Girardi said. “So I feel like, in a sense, you don’t want to waste your bullets, and I thought I’e going to leave it.”
• Curtis Granderson was kept in the lineup despite his miserable numbers this series. He responded with two hits, including a solo homer to add some breathing room in the seventh. “You go through (bad) four-game stretches all the time,” Granderson said. “Obviously these are more magnified and more intense, but you’ve got to continue to swing the bat and put guys out there. We as a team haven’t swung the bats as well as we would have liked to, Baltimore didn’t swing as well as they would have liked to, but you’ve just got to get hits when you need to in the end.”
• Why did Girardi stick with Granderson? “A lot of his struggles were off of lefties,” Girardi said. “And he had some pretty good at?bats off Hammel over at their place and during the course of their season, so I just felt like, you know, I am going to leave him in there. And obviously he came through today. That third run is a huge run for us and off a lefty. For Curtis, the big thing is when he swings at strikes, he is extremely dangerous.”
• Play of the game just might have been Mark Teixeira’s fifth-inning steal. His single had been the Yankees first hit of the game, and after he took second, Ibanez was able to get him home with groundball through the infield. “We talked about it a little bit yesterday and a little bit today that if the opportunity presented itself, they’re not holding you on,” Teixeira said. “I felt like we needed a little spark. I felt like we needed to get a guy in scoring position with nobody out. I took the chance. … I could have easily blown out running that way. I was either going to be a hero or a goat there in that instance. I’m not a base stealer at all, but I felt like we needed a spark.”
• Ibanez on the stolen base: “It surprised me and surprised everybody,” he said. “At that point I was just trying to get him to third base, and once I got two strikes I was just trying to hit the ball kind of up the middle and just kind of battle.”
• If you’re wondering, Teixeira had two steals in the regular season. He’d never stolen a base in the postseason.
• Girardi said Matt Wieters was most likely Sabathia’s final batter no matter what happened in that ninth inning. He was closer to pulling Sabathia in the eighth, but even then he was determined to stick with Sabathia through at least the McLouth at-bat. When McLouth struck out, Girardi stuck with Sabathia to face Hardy, who grounded to short to end the inning. “If Hardy gets a hit there, I am thinking of pulling him there,” Girardi said. “He had done a good job on Jones, but I just wanted to make sure that the inning didn’t get away. But I had Robby up for Hardy, and that is the first guy I might have brought him in for, not before that. CC was going and it was his game.”
• Speaking of the Hardy at-bat, that was a nice, charging play by Jeter to end the inning. “I had no choice,” Jeter said. “J.J. hit a slow roller. I was forced to get rid of it quick and I had enough time.”
• Sabathia is the second Yankee to throw a complete game in the division series (also David Wells in 1997) and his 17.2 innings are the most ever pitched by a Yankee in a single division series (passing David Cone, who threw 15.2 innings in 1995).
• Jeter took an 0-for-3 and had his streak of four straight multi-hit games to start this postseason snapped. It was the longest such streak in franchise history matching Moose Skowron (1960), Lou Gehrig (1932) and Babe Ruth (1928). Jeter is a career .343 hitter in division series games.
• Joba Chamberlain said his elbow was fine. He was available.
• The Orioles gave the Yankees all they could ask for in the regular season, and again in the postseason. Final word goes to Girardi: “You know, they are a very good club and they are a very resilient club. You have a bunch of young kids over there that just play the game the right way and play hard. And you think about it, we played 23 games, and there were four runs that separated us. It’s an accomplishment for both clubs because they never went away. People thought they were going to go away, they never went away. And I am very proud of our club for staying in.”
Associated Press photos