CC Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett was billed to be a pitcher’s duel. In terms of score, it was a pitcher’s duel. But it wasn’t a “classic duel” in the way Clemens-Pedro May 28, 2000 was, where two strikeout masters overpowered hitters from the outset. Sabathia bent, but didn’t break, while Beckett was as dominant as he perhaps has ever been.
Sabathia had his B game, maybe his C game. His final line was an alphanumeric dream: 5 2/3 IP, 9 H, R, ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 118 pitches, 69 strikes. But as he’s done so often in his two Yankee seasons, Sabathia demonstrated an ability to make big pitches to get outs at crucial times. He allowed 13 baserunners but only one crossed home plate.
Beckett, on the other hand looked like the 20-year-old who led the Florida Marlins to a 2003 title, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Beckett effectively mixed a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, and his wicked curveball to keep the Yankees off balance, and off the scoresheet. He tossed eight shutout innings and retired the last 14 batters he faced. Jonathan Papelbon came on and retired the side in order in the 9th.
Given Beckett’s mastery and the Red Sox leaving 16 men on base, the Yankees were fortunate to lose by only a 4-0 margin.
Some early-season Yankee themes were exposed, however:
* For all of the talk about the Yankees’ powerful lineup, the hit parade over the past week took place against mediocre pitching. The Yankees touched up Francisco Liriano, sure, but Beckett, Jon Lester, the young arms of the Orioles and Rangers are on tap. This wasn’t a good first impression of how the Yankees’ offense will handle opposing staff aces.
* YankeeAnalysts’ Larry Koestler tweeted that the Yankees’ 18 home runs have covered up for a lineup-wide slump. It’s true. Go down the line: Brett Gardner .165/.265/.267; Derek Jeter looks like someone about to turn 37, at .206/.300/.235; Mark Teixeira, despite the home runs, is batting .182 and doing nothing to dispel the slow starts that have been a hallmark of his career; Curtis Granderson is batting .172 and getting on base at just a .250 clip; Nick Swisher is at .219/.289/.250; and Jorge Posada has one hit in his last 17 AB and struck out three times Sunday night to drop his average to .138.
Posada admitted as much to the Ledger’s Marc Carig, telling the beat man that “Nothing is positive” for him at the moment.
* Was this a taste of what we can expect when Alex Rodriguez sits? A-Rod has flown under the radar and has arguably been the Yankees’ best player to date, with just one hitless game and an OPS of 1.155. During the in-game interview with Buster Olney, Joe Girardi said A-Rod had the flu, and hoped he’d be ready to play Tuesday night against Baltimore.
* Freddy Garcia made his debut, pitching an uninspired eighth inning. The ball Big Papi hit off the top of the 420 sign would still be airborne if this game was played in July or August instead of April. One inning is a small sample size, but Garcia was mediocre in Grapefruit League action, and mediocre in his work Sunday. Projections for Friday are welcome.
The decision for Garcia over well, anyone else — but most likely Rafael Soriano — was questioned: The consensus: Garcia isn’t pitching until Friday, so it was an opportunity for him to get some work in.
Girardi told reporters after the game that he would have used Rafael Soriano had the game remained 1-0 in the eighth inning, but with the game 3-0 at that point, he “used his bullpen a little different.” So concede the game? With a three-run differential, the game was still winnable in the Yankees’ last at-bat. Keep the game in striking distance with your best available arms.
On a different note, Yankees pitchers issued 8 walks. Three of those walks turned into Red Sox runs.
The Yankees are now 5-4, tied with the Blue Jays for second place in the East, one game behind the Baltimore Showalters, who come to the Bronx Tuesday night. Until the first pitch of that series, Buck’s comments about Derek Jeter will be hashed and rehashed. It’ll probably bleed into the telecast, too.
As for the baseball, it’s still early and it’s far from panic time. But if the Yankees continue to lose series and the lineup at-large continues to struggle, the tension will certainly mount.
[Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images]