You know the best thing about CC Sabathia? Not the strikeouts, not the innings, not even the dominance. It’s the fact that he’s a Sure Thing. A suuuure thing. The Yankees have been blessed with a lot of great starting pitchers over the past sixteen years, including guys like Jimmy Key, Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Roger Clemens, El Duque, Mike Mussina, and probably someone else who’s slipping my mind, but there’s never been anyone like Mr. Sabathia. All those other guys were great and played the role of ace at one point or another, but Sabathia lives the part. When he takes the mound, he takes the game by its throat and doesn’t let go until either Girardi pries the ball from his meaty left hand or Posada squeezes the final out.
All of that is always a good thing, but it’s never been more valuable than this season. As the other four starters have struggled with injury and inconsistency, Sabathia has been a rock, showing his brilliance not only with dominant outings like Thursday afternoon but with a measured consistency that makes him the solid front-runner for this year’s Cy Young Award winner in the American League. When you look at his game log, all of this becomes clear.
His last three months have been ridiculous. From June 3 to September 2 his numbers look like this:
18 GS 15-1 131.1 IP 113 H 42 BB 111 K 2.39 ERA 1.18 WHIP
Which isn’t bad. But even during these past three months, Sabathia’s strength is that he’s been consistently… really, really good. On Thursday afternoon he was dominant. After the game Jorge Posada said that Sabathia had had no-hit stuff, and it almost translated to an actual no-no. Mark Ellis punched a ground ball to right field to lead off the second, and that would be the only base hit surrendered by Sabathia over his eight innings. (Our old friend Jonathan Albaladejo would pitch a scoreless ninth to finish the shutout.)
Sabathia allowed only six balls to be hit in the air, three lazy flies to the outfield and three pop-ups to Mark Teixeira at first. He found himself in trouble only twice, but quelled the uprising both times without breaking a sweat. Shortstop Cliff Pennington laid down a bunt to lead off the third inning and ended up on second after Posada air-mailed the throw down the right field line. Pennington arrived at third with just one out after a tapper to the mound, but CC wriggled free by popping up Rajai Davis and striking out Kurt Suzuki.
CC faced the minimum twelve batters over the next four innings, but made things momentarily interesting when he followed a hit batsman (Jeff Larish) with a walk to Landon Powell. He held a 4-0 lead, but with two men on and no 0ne out, suspense entered the equation for the first time all afternoon. But don’t worry. A quick strikeout, a floater out to right, and a ground ball to second, and the mini-crisis was averted.
For their parts, the hitters gave Sabathia what he needed for his nineteenth victory. Posada homered in the second for the first run, Curtis Granderson (fresh off the bench for Nick Swisher, whose sore foot kicked him out of the game after the first inning) homered for the second run in the sixth and added a two-run jack in the seventh to make it 4-0. A string of hits in the eighth inning started by Lance Berkman (whose helicoptering bat almost decapitated Posada in the on-deck circle) and finished by Austin Kearns closed out the scoring at 5-0.
The story, though, was Sabathia. The Sure Thing. With Sabathia going once every five days in September and pitching two or three times in each playoff series, I like the Yankees’ chances.