CC Sabathia continued a disappointing trend of giving up a cluster of runs during the later innings of his starts following a few strong innings tonight, ceding five in only 5.2 innings pitched, two of which came on a fifth-inning home run by Danny Valencia. Even though Baltimore went into the fourth inning without a baserunner, Sabathia proceeded to allow seven hits and one walk between the fourth and sixth innings. While it did seem, for a little while, that we would see a quality start from him tonight, it soon became clear that pitching wasn't going to win the game for the Yankees.
Thankfully, the offense had a great all-around night, with Derek Jeter being the only starter without a hit (and he did walk in one of his four plate appearances). Both Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki hit go-ahead, two-run homers (in the fourth and fifth innings), and Robinson Cano went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBI. The Yankees finished with 13 hits and three walks, and, after the third inning, had no problems reaching base safely.
Miguel Gonzalez has become notorious for being a Yankee-killer, as he entered tonight's game holding a 2.48 ERA against them for his career; and, similar to Sabathia, it took him a few innings to allow a baserunner before losing command, control, and the lead (in that order). Gonzalez was charged with all five runs in the long fifth inning, in which every run crossed the plate before an out was recorded, and he seemed unable to hit the strike zone without the ball being driven into the outfield. Gonzalez was replaced by T.J. McFarland, who fared only slightly better, and later gave up a run in the seventh inning. Francisco Rodriguez was the only Baltimore reliever to escape unscathed on the scoreboard, although the Yankees managed three hits off him in 1.1 innings.
Tonight's game actually presented an interesting way to look at the differences in bullpen strategy between managers. I'm sure it will shock no one to know that Buck Showalter tends to trust process over result, while Joe Girardi prefers to micromanage by matchup/binder, but it was still jarring, if nothing else, to see three different Yankee relievers (Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, and David Robertson) record outs in the seventh inning. I tend to skew negative when I see Girardi make a managerial decision I disagree with, but the different uses of bullpen tonight show an interesting split in strategy. I don't think a lot of statistical research has been done to show whether a few one-out specialists or one or two one-inning relievers are more helpful to a team's bullpen success, but I'm willing to give Girardi's binder the benefit of the doubt in this situation. That being said, I don't think I like the idea of using Logan- likely the Yankees' best reliever not named Robertson or Mariano Rivera- to throw to one batter, especially if the plan all along was to bring in Robertson to throw to Manny Machado and the heart of the Baltimore lineup.
As a whole, though, the Yankees bullpen was terrific, allowing no runs, one walk, and two hits over 3.1 innings. Rivera threw a perfect ninth inning to continue a stellar 2013 season, picking up his 39th save. Many fans have become a little frustrated with the bullpen play recently, but the Yankees' setup man/closer combo might be the best in Major League Baseball, and other relievers like Logan will provide consistent late-inning production for these last games in the wild card race.
The wild card race will be coming to its climax soon, and the Yankees haven't yet played a more vital series to their playoff chances. Tonight's pitching matchup appeared to be the most favorable to the Orioles, which makes this win all the more important to a possible run to the wild card playoff game. With two more games to play in this series, the Yankees will look to continue their success at the plate; and if their bats look anything like they did tonight, by Sunday we could see the Yankees being the closest team to surpassing the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland A's for a playoff berth.