In the previous two postseasons, CC Sabathia went 1-3 in four starts with a 9.47 ERA and 2.32 WHIP. It seems clear now that his struggles were due to exhaustion. In 2007, Sabathia threw a major league leading 241 regular season innings. That was nearly 50 more innings than he had thrown the previous year, and 31 more than his previous career high. In 2008, he threw a dozen more innings than in 2007 and pitched on three-days rest in his last three starts in September.
This year, Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland never once asked Sabathia to start on short rest during the season and gave him an extra day or two of rest before 12 of his 34 starts. Sabathia finished the year with “just” 230 innings pitched. As a result, his postseason line after two starts looks like this: 14 2/3 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 15 K, 1.23 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 2-0.
The Yankees got two runs in the bottom of the first of Game One of the ALCS Friday night thanks to a pair of defensive miscues by the Angels, who played a sloppy game on a frigid night in the Bronx. Sabathia made those two runs stand up for eight innings, and Mariano Rivera closed the door in the ninth, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the series. That’s really all you need to know, but here are the details.
After Sabathia pitched around a two-out single by Torii Hunter in the top of the first, a hit that would prove to be one of just four Sabathia allowed on a night in which just five Angels reached base, Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first with a classic opposite-field single off John Lackey. Johnny Damon, who went 1-for-12 in the Division Series against the Twins, but spent the layoff in between series working on his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long, particularly on reducing his head movement, followed with an opposite field single of his own, dropping a hit down near the left-field foul line. Ex-Yankee Juan Rivera gathered up the ball, but his throw to second was off-line, allowing Damon to move to second. After Mark Teixeira flew out to shallow left, Alex Rodriguez lifted a sac fly to center to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. Lackey then got Hideki Matsui to pop out behind third, but shortstop Erick Aybar didn’t hear third baseman Chone Figgins tell him to take the ball and it fell in between the two of them for what was absurdly ruled a single as Damon scored the second Yankee run of the inning.
That was all Sabathia would need. In the top of the fourth, Vlad Guerrero hit what looked like a home run to the visiting bullpen in left center, but the ball hit off the Plexiglas wall and Guerrero, in his home run trot, cruised into second with a double. He later scored on a Kendry Morales single, but that was the only run the Angels managed all night. Sabathia didn’t give up another hit the rest of the night, retiring 13 of the next 14 Angel batters (the exception being a walk to Morales in the seventh).
Meanwhile, the Yankees added some insurance runs. Damon led off the fifth with a double and scored on another by Matsui. Alex Rodriguez walked in between the two and ran through a stop sign to try to score on Matsui’s hit. The throw beat Rodriguez to the plate, but despite an awkward collision, catcher Jeff Mathis never actually tagged him. Nonetheless, Alex was ruled out and no one argued the call. It was just as well, he should have obeyed his third base coach (Alex admitted his mistake after the game, saying he had put his head down too early), and the run wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game.
In the sixth, Melky Cabrera, another ALDS scuffler who had a good night, going 1-for-2 with a pair of free passes, walked, moved to second when Lackey’s attempted pick-off throw dove into the runner and got past Morales at first base, then scored on a single to center by Jeter. Jeter’s hit took an unexpected hop on Torii Hunter in center, getting past Hunter and allowing Jeter to go to second, but the extra base proved moot. Nonetheless, it was the Angels third error of the game (and should have been their fourth).
Pitching in relief of Lackey in the seventh, righty Jason Bulger loaded the bases with two outs on a pair of walks and a pitch that hit Robinson Cano in the ankle, but both the HBP and the jam left no lasting results as Nick Swisher struck out to end the threat.
Sabathia worked eight full, throwing a reasonable 113 pitches and striking out seven. Rivera came on in the ninth and, after a leadoff walk to Hunter, locked down the 4-1 win. The Yankees take a 1-0 lead in the series and are looking sharp and smart with CC still on schedule to pitch twice more in this series should it reach seven games.