Tonight, CC Sabathia showed us all why he is being paid in excess of $20,000,000 this season-- for five innings.
Scheduled to get the start in a matchup of two former Cy Young award winners, Sabathia, who has struggled to the tune of a 4.81 ERA this season, was the underdog against AL East killer David Price, who came into the matchup sporting a pristine 2.97 ERA in his career against Al East opponents. But you couldn't tell through the first four innings; both pitchers were masterful, each allowing only one hit, as Sabathia didn't let a ball get hit out of the infield (he induced a lot of groundouts with his changeup tonight; it was really working) and Price benefited from Joe Maddon's outrageous defensive shifts, which positioned Rays fielders perfectly to record outs.
However, one shift came back to bite Maddon in the rear end in the top of the fifth inning. With runners on first and second with one man out, Mark Reynolds grounded a ball to the right side, right where Ben Zobrist, the second baseman, would have been playing had there been no shift on. However, because Zobrist was on the left side of the infield, the ball rolled through to right field and loaded the bases. Austin Romine would then have an incredible at bat, working a nine-pitch walk to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Ichiro grounded out to second, but Vernon Wells scored from third, and it was suddenly 2-0.
Up until the sixth inning, Sabathia was pitching like the Sabathia of old. He was brilliant, his fastball reaching up to 95 miles per hour, and his changeup painting the outside corner and getting Ray after Ray to roll over it. No ball was hit on the fly into the outfield until the sixth, as Eduardo Nunez, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano had a busy night in the infield.
But the wheels came off in the bottom of the sixth. Sam Fuld led off with a single to left, and then Sabathia, beginning to lose control, issued a costly four-pitch walk to the speedy Desmond Jennings. The sixth was the first inning in which Sabathia consistently began to fall behind batters, something he was seldom doing for the first five innings. He ended up falling behind 2-0 to the next hitter, Ben Zobrist, before he lined a shot into center field. Curtis Granderson barely cut the ball off and threw it in, but not before Zobrist had touched second and both Fuld and Jennings had crossed the plate. With still nobody out, Evan Longoria sent a single into left field, and in a matter of minutes, the scoreboard had changed from 2-0 Yankees to 3-2 Rays.
Thankfully, Sabathia was able to finish the inning with no further damage. He would go on to record one out in the bottom of the seventh; a Jose Molina groundout to shortstop. After that, he exited the game. His final line: 6 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs, 6 hits, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts. However, his line through five innings was a lot different. Just compare it to his real line:
Sabathia through 6 1/3: 3 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 7 K
Sabathia through 5: 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 5 K
For most of the game, the surging Yankee offense was reduced to a whimper. Of the final 13 batters of the game, just one (Curtis Granderson) recorded a hit; a double into the right-field corner. David Price, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney combined in a stellar pitching performance for Tampa Bay, as the wound up winning 4-2.
Close but no cigar, both for Sabathia, and for the Yankees.
Just a little bit of playoff-chance analysis here: The Yankees are currently 4 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot and 7 games out of the division lead. After tomorrow's Rays game, the Yankees head to Toronto for three games, and then back to Yankee Stadium for a very crucial series against the Orioles and then a three-game set against the lowly White Sox. Those two series are both pretty much make or break for the Yanks.
Let's hope we can salvage a win tomorrow, and build some new momentum against Toronto, which can then carry into the set with the Orioles.