This is what Joe Girardi saw when CC Sabathia struck out Austin Jackson and came roaring off the mound at the end of the seventh inning.
“I think CC really has a lot of pride in what he does and understands the ace role and that we needed to win a game today,” Girardi said. “I think he probably took a lot of satisfaction out of it, and the team picked up on it.”
This is what Sabathia was really feeling in that moment.
“I was really upset with myself,” Sabathia said. “It’s the seventh inning, we have a 3-0 lead, and I went 3-2 with every hitter. I was just upset with myself for not making better pitches and maybe being able to go back out for the eighth. I know the bullpen has been taxed, and we haven’t had an off day for a while, so I was trying to pitch as deep as possible in the game. I was just a little frustrated with myself.”
If you’re wondering whether the Yankees expectations have changed this year, Sabathia seemed to answer them with that one familiar gesture. It’s a bravado that he saves for his very best, when he’s holding himself to high standards and producing results like this one. Against a dangerous Tigers lineup, Sabathia didn’t allow an extra-base hit, let only one base runner as far as second base, and pitched around three walks. He was better than Justin Verlander, which is basically all you need to know.
“I don’t care who they got missing, that’s the Yankees,” Verlander told The Associated Press. “They have a winning mentality about them, and they’re going to find a way to win this year. You don’t ever take anything for granted. As you saw, it was the bottom of the lineup that did the damage.”
This was a more-complete effort than the Andy Pettitte game. This was a 13-hit day for the lineup, a strong start from the ace, and two scoreless innings from the go-to arms in the bullpen. The bottom of the order delivered the early blows with Francisco Cervelli’s RBI double and Jayson Nix’s two-run homer, and Kevin Youkilis delivered the final blow late with a two-run single in the ninth.
The Yankees have not played very well this season, but they played awfully well today.
“CC came back and gave us seven strong innings, real good, and we did the rest,” Rivera said. “We needed to win today.”
• Nix went 3-for-4, including that big two-run homer off Verlander. Before that second-inning at-bat, Nix was 1-for-11 with a single and five strikeouts in his career against Verlander. “He is who he is, you know?” Nix said. “But every time you play, you always have a plan and a way you think you can have some success, and we were able to do that today.”
• The home run came on a 2-1 changeup after Nix had already seen a slider, fastball and curveball in the at-bat. “He’s hard to predict anyway,” Nix said. “He doesn’t really get into patterns. … I just saw it, was able to get into position where I was able to see it, and I think my approach helped stay on that pitch and be able to barrel it.”
• Rivera made his final stop at Comerica Park having converted his past 23 save opportunities against the Tigers dating back to 1999. In his career, he’s pitching 29.1 regular-season innings in Detroit and allowed four earned runs on 18 hits, 3 walks (two intentional) and 29 strikeouts. “I’m just trying to do my job and help my team win,” Rivera said. “The rest just fall into place.”
• Girardi joked — I think he was joking — that he expected Rivera to get a Bengal tiger as his gift from the Tigers. “I told Mo, once it got to a certain size he’d have to get rid of it,” Girardi said.
• Girardi on Sabathia: “I even think it’ll get better, I do. You don’t see him walk too many guys very often. I think it will continue to get better as he builds arm strength through the month of April. That’s what he does. But I’m pleased. And the emotion that he showed, he understood what it meant. This is a very good team we beat today.”
• Cervelli on Sabathia: “The difference was fastball command. Able to hit the corners, especially make hitters uncomfortable inside, outside corner. He was really good with the fastball. Like I say all the time, that’s the key for him.”
• Sabathia on Sabathia: “Fastball command was a lot better. The changeup worked early. I was able to get some miss-hits and some swings early in the count, was able to pitch deeper in the game. … That’s an unbelievable lineup. We definitely worked harder than the final number indicates. I’m sure if I face them again they’re going to be tough. That’s a good lineup.”
• Two hits for Youkilis, Hafner and Cervelli. A double and two walks from Wells. The two-run homer from Nix. Lyle Overbay was the only Yankees starter without a hit, and it’s little surprise this was the first time the Yankees scored more than four runs this season.
• Still not cleared to hit or field, Eduardo Nunez did get into the game as a pinch runner.
• Fear not, everyone. The best news of today — and for the superstitious among you, the reason for today — is that Joba Chamberlain shaved his mustache. “It wasn’t doing us any good,” he explained, and he’s right. It wasn’t doing any of us, Yankees and non-Yankees alike, any good. Not any good at all.
• Let’s give the final word to Nix: “Obviously you want to get off to a good start, and we’re not off to the best of starts, but I think we all don’t get caught up into it too much. Every day’s a big game, an important game, and facing Verlander, with C on the mound, this is a game we want to win. We don’t really get caught up in it too much, but we do want to win, get on a streak, get a good thing going. So that was important to do today, and it was good.”
Associated Press photos