C.C. Sabathia provided the perfect cure for a hangover. With the Yankees still basking in the glow of Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, it would have been easy to overlook Sunday’s rubber game against the Rays, but the big lefty almost single handedly made sure there wouldn’t be a morning after.
For much of the game, it seemed as if the Yankees and Rays had packed away their bats for the All Star break a little too early. With Sabathia and James Shields on the mound, that was probably a wise decision. Neither team made much use of them anyway. For seven innings, the two aces not only traded zeros, but did so with relative ease. In 11 of the game’s 17 half innings, the Yankees and Rays sent only three batters to the plate, and in the other six, the two teams never used more than four.
Before Sabathia and Shields got on a roll, the Yankees and Rays each mounted an early threat, but both opportunities were forfeited by questionable decision making. The Rays had the first chance to break out on top when Sean Rodriguez started the third inning with a double. However, with no outs in the inning, he was then inexplicably gunned down trying to steal third. After Rodriguez’ costly blunder, the Rays never advanced another runner past first base.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Yankees also gift wrapped an inning for Shields. After Eduardo Nunez led off with an infield hit and Derek Jeter reached on a perfectly placed bunt single, the Yankees decided to play some small ball with Curtis Granderson, one of the league’s most potent hitters in the first half. That decision eventually backfired when Nunez was thrown out at the plate while trying to score on Mark Teixeira’s shallow fly ball.
For most of the game, it seemed like the Yankees and Rays were standing around watching Sabathia and Shields pitch. Unfortunately for Tampa, B.J. Upton wasn’t one of the bystanders. In the fourth inning, the enigmatic centerfielder was picked off trying to steal second base, and then, in seventh, he was doubled off first base on a fly ball to right. In the bottom half of the same inning, Upton tried to return the favor by doubling off Robinson Cano, but his throw ended up in the seats behind first base. With a good throw, Cano would have likely been out. Instead, the winning run was placed on third with only one out.
Upton almost got a reprieve when Russell Martin lined out, but Shields compounded his centerfielder’s error by making one of his own. With Cano creeping down the line, Shields attempted a pick off, but threw wildly, allowing the go ahead run to score. Ironically, Shields’ worst pitch of the day was delivered to third base, and it ultimately cost him the ballgame.
After being staked to a 1-0 lead, Sabathia mowed down the Rays in the eighth and then, instead of giving way to Mariano Rivera, stepped atop the mound to start the ninth. How much to did the big lefty want the complete game shutout? For the second out, he caught Ben Zobrist looking at a 97mph heater. Then, for the final out, he blew Elliot Johnson away his fastest pitch of the game. The radar gun read 98mph. Sabathia let out a primordial roar. It was the perfect punctuation to an outstanding first half by both Sabathia and the entire team.