And so it is that CC Sabathia, unbeaten at home since July 2 of last year, has now been defeated. After Tuesday’s anemic 6-2 loss, the words “CC Sabathia” and “Cy Young Award frontrunner” are not being used in the same sentence. Sabathia, three times a 19-game winner, saw his ERA jump to 3.14 from 3.02, and he may have blown his best chance to finally hit the 20-win plateau. His next start comes Monday against the Rays. He has one more start against the Orioles before finishing against the Rays and either the Blue Jays or Red Sox.
Sabathia’s problems started immediately. The first five Orioles reached base and three runs scored before he recorded his first out. We could sit here and analyze location and nitpick his mechanics, but to simplify it, he was off.
“Could you have a worse beginning?” John Sterling asked the radio audience. The question, framed in his trademark condescending harrumph, was not rhetorical. Ty Wigginton could have hit a grand slam and the O’s could have scored five runs before making their first out. Sabathia showed his toughness by coming back to retire the 6-7-8 hitters and escape with a disappointing yet manageable 3-0 deficit.
Lost in that initial series was how poor defense led to the craptastic start. Jorge Posada alone cost the Yankees two runs: 1) His passed ball allowed Brian Roberts to advance to second base. Roberts would score two batters later, on Ty Wigginton’s bloop single. 2) His inability to hold on to Brett Gardner’s throw allowed Nick Markakis to slide home safely with the Orioles’ third run.
And yet with all that, there was still a sense the Yankees would find a way to dig back against Jake Arrieta. They had their chances, too. They plated a run in the first inning and seemed primed for more, with runners at the corners and one out, until Nick Swisher bounced into a double play. In the second, Seth Everett doppelganger Lance Berkman led off with a single only to be erased on a Posada double play. That double play began a stretch of nine straight Yankees being retired.
On the other side, Sabathia continued to labor and the defense continued to falter behind him. Wigginton led off the third with a double — a long fly ball to the right-center-field gap that Granderson had a bead on and nearly caught, but it bounded off the heel of his glove. Two batters later, Nolan Reimold launched a first-pitch fastball around the left-field foul pole and into the second deck. Granderson’s seventh-inning error led to the Orioles’ final run of the game.
It was only a matter of time before the Yankees had a stinker like this, especially with Sabathia on the mound. The offense, despite valiant efforts and numerous opportunities created, couldn’t bail him out. The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position; they were hitless in their last nine at-bats with RISP. Perhaps the play most emblematic of the Yankees’ night occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning, when with runners on first and third and one out, Alex Rodriguez, pinch-hitting for Ramiro Peña, ripped a line drive off the glove of third baseman Josh Bell, only to have it carom to shortstop Robert Andino, who fired to Roberts at second to force Granderson. Berkman, watching the play develop in front of him, had to hold at third. He’d be stranded there as Brett Gardner grounded out to end the inning and the last Yankee threat.
The Yankees have now followed their season-long eight-game winning streak with three straight losses. Tuesday’s defeat marked the first series loss at home since the Toronto Blue Jays took two of three August 2-4.
Credit the Orioles, though. These are not the Dave Trembley/Juan Samuel led O’s that mailed in the season before the All-Star break. They’re playing inspired baseball under Mr. Showalter. In fact, in the 35 games since he assumed managerial duties in Baltimore, the O’s have the best record in the AL East at 21-14, one game ahead of the Yankees.
It was previously thought that with the upcoming trip to Texas, and 13 games against the Rays and Red Sox, the two series with the Orioles would not necessarily be gimmes, but chances for the Yankees to pad the win column and keep the Rays at arm’s length. Not so. The former Yankees manager has given the young O’s a reason to play spoiler.
What’s a four letter word that rhymes with Buck?