Nineteen ninety-eight was a lifetime ago. Personally, I had only just started dating my wife, and we were still just imagining the three children we have now. The Yankees, meanwhile, won every single night and coasted through the first two rounds of the playoffs before sweeping the Padres in the World Series. It was all a lifetime ago, and last night’s game in San Diego was a harsh, harsh reminder.
For one thing, CC Sabathia used to be an absolute stud. Even when things were going well for the Yankees — and I’m not thinking back all the way to 1998 anymore — CC’s games stood out on the schedule. He was the horse who would always pitch seven or eight innings, and even on the nights when he didn’t have his best stuff, you’d still look up in the end and he’d have made it through seven innings while allowing just three runs and earning a hard-fought win. He was that rare quantity — the pitcher on the staff with the best stuff and the most heart.
Because of that, the fall of Sabathia has been perhaps the most unsettling part of this incredibly unsettling season. He was good in April, stringing together three straight quality starts, but it’s been all downhill since then. His monthly ERA numbers have looked like this: 3.35, 4.14, 5.11, and a whopping 6.60 in July. He has been the worst Yankee starter this season, it hasn’t even been close. If his name weren’t CC Sabathia, there would be talk of removing him from the rotation. But since his name is CC Sabathia, he will almost certainly take the mound ten more times this season, and there’s nothing to indicate that those starts won’t go like it did on Friday night.
The Padres didn’t waste any time, as they sent seven men to the plate in the first inning and scored two runs. The first run came on a bases-loaded walk, the second on a ground out to the pitcher. Sabathia made a highlight reel play to get that out, otherwise the inning might have lasted forever.
The Yankee hitters gamely answered with two runs of their own in the top of the second when Eduardo Núñez poked a double down the right field line to score Ichiro, then scored two batters later on a Sabathia ground out. There was reason for hope at that point, but the Bronx Bombers managed only three lousy singles over the next seven innings. Sure, there were at least three or four blistered line drives that died in Padre gloves, a horrific call at first base that robbed Núñez of a hit in the fourth, and another blown call at second in the fifth, but what you see in the box score tells the sad truth. Three San Diego pitchers named Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson, and Tim Stauffer held the Yankees to two runs on only seven hits.
Sabathia began to crumble in the top of the fourth. He gave up a long home run to Logan Forsythe with one out, then instead of covering first on Cashner’s ground ball to first, Sabathia stood on the mound like a statue and allowed the opposing pitcher to reach base without a throw. (As egregious as this mental error was, it shouldn’t have been a surprise; Sabathia has not recorded a putout at first base in more than two years.) Cabrera capitalized on CC’s non-error by launching a triple over Brett Gardner’s head in center field to score Cashner and give the Padres a 4-2 lead.
There was more of the same in the sixth inning. Nick Hundley drew a one-out walk, and Cabrera singled him to second two batters later. After Chris Denorfia singled to drive in Hundley, Joe Girardi had no choice but to pull his starter. Sabathia’s line on the night: 5.2 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K.
Joba Chamberlain gave up a home run to Jedd Gyorko in the seventh, and Adam Warren coughed up another to Will Venable in the eighth, and soon enough it was all mercifully over. Padres 7, Yankees 2.
It can’t be worse on Saturday night, can it?
[Photo Credit: Denis Poroy/Getty Images]