Having scored just one run over their last two games despite getting solid pitching from the entire staff — even the Meat Tray has allowed just one hit and no runs over his last three outings, spanning 5 1/3 innings — there was still a sense of unease among Yankee fans heading into Tuesday’s matchup against Detroit. Derek Jeter bounced into a double play to stifle a ninth-inning comeback attempt. The Yankees, as has been the case for what seems like the past 15 years, continue to make pitchers they’ve never faced before look like a combination of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. Andy Pettitte’s timetable for return remains uncertain; first he suffered a setback in a simulated game, then the news of an MRI following his latest bullpen session “basically to set his mind at ease.” A-Rod was out of the lineup due to a strained calf muscle. Lance Berkman’s still on the shelf with the ankle injury suffered in Kansas City.
And oh yes, there’s that small matter of the Tampa Bay Rays winning two straight while the Yankees lost two in a row, to climb into a first-place tie.
Amid Hope Week, fans were dialing the Batphone.
But the Yankees had two things going for them: 1) They had CC Sabathia, unbeaten in his previous 18 starts at home dating back to last season, on the mound. 2) At least they had faced Justin Verlander before, so there was a chance that their luck would turn, despite their lack of success against him. The fact that he had an ERA of over 7.00 in the first inning was a clue that if the Yankees didn’t get to him early, they might not get to him at all (a point that was beaten senseless by all Yankee commentators, both on TV and radio).
Things didn’t look too good after Austin Jackson yoked CC Sabathia’s first pitch of the game into the left-field seats and then surrendered two loud outs. Curtis Granderson made two tremendous catches to bail him out and minimize the first-inning damage to just one run.
In the bottom half, Brett Gardner (leadoff single) and Derek Jeter (walk), set the table for a two-run inning. The Yankees had a chance to pile on, loading the bases with one out, but Marcus Thames grounded into an inning-ending double play. Granderson’s leadoff home run in the second provided more of a cushion for Sabathia, who cruised through the next five-plus innings, until yielding a solo home run to Brandon Inge in the seventh. After Triple Crown and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, there was no one in the Tigers’ lineup to pose a threat to Sabathia. Save for the Tigers’ 13-run explosion on Sunday, they had scored more than four runs in a game only two other times since August 1.
The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, applied constant pressure to Verlander, advancing runners to scoring position in each of the first four innings. They were as patient as Verlander was wild, drawing five walks and forcing him to throw 114 pitches. There was a prevailing sense of uneasiness, however, because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on many of those opportunities. They had chances to blow the game open and did not. The Yankees did manage to eat up Detroit’s middle relief, scoring three runs against Daniel Schlereth — one in the sixth and two in the seventh — but again missed an opportunity to tack on runs in the seventh. With the bases loaded and one out, they only managed to score one run in that situation, courtesy of a Ramiro Peña’s sacrifice fly. The Yankees finished the night 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
A four-run lead heading into the eighth inning is a little more secure these days, with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera teaming up to shut the door. The tandem did just that on Tuesday to preserve the 6-2 victory and keep the Yankees tied with the Rays for first place in the division and the best record in baseball. CC Sabathia became the American League’s first 16-game winner.
Wins aside, Sabathia has to be considered among the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award. He’s in the top 10 in seven major pitching categories, has a 2.34 K/BB ratio, 7.08 K/9 ratio, and has already thrown 181 2/3 innings. Perhaps most impressive, CC Sabathia has pitched at least seven innings in 18 of his 26 starts. That’s an ace.
And that’s what we saw Tuesday night.
At some point, opposing managers will learn that keeping a left-hander in to face Robinson Canó means nothing. Canó’s frozen-rope home run in the seventh inning off Schlereth was his 22nd of the season and 12th off a left-hander. He is now slugging .585 versus lefties this season.
Nice move by the Yankees to pay homage to Bobby Thomson, who died Tuesday at the age of 86. Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” on Oct. 3, 1951, put the Giants into the World Series, where the Yankees defeated them 4-2.