On paper, you have to like the Yankees odds in a C.C. Sabathia – C.J. Wilson matchup. Off paper, well, it didn’t go quite the way you might have expected… but it came out all right in the end.
Sabathia was off tonight, because of the long layoff or who knows why; he got off to an inauspicious start in the first, with a walk, a single, and a prompt three-run home run to Josh Hamilton before I’d even had time to crack a beer. He got out of this inning with a diving play at the plate – and watching C.C. Sabathia dive is a thing to behold – and kept it together after that, more or less, but was never close to his dominant self; as he said after the game, he couldn’t execute a game plan because he couldn’t get the ball over the plate consistently. In the fourth inning he gave up two more – singles to Matt Treanor and Elvis Andrus, and a double to Michael Young. It was 5-0, the Yankees had barely touched C.J. Wilson, Sabathia was out of the game, and it didn’t look good for the Bombers.
Joba Chamberlain took over and threw a solid inning, with just a walk and no further drama. He was was followed by Dustin Moseley, who much to my surprise became one of the night’s heroes: he went two innings, struck out four, and allowed exactly no baserunners. (He was also adorably thrilled after the game, eyes bright and wide and talking about how tonight was a dream come true). New York didn’t get on the scoreboard until the seventh inning, when Robinson Cano hit an arcing home run that landed just on the good side of the right field foul pole. At the time, it seemed like a moral victory – hey, at least they won’t be shut out.
Then came the eighth inning.
Ahhh… the eighth inning.
The Rangers went through five pitchers in the eighth before they recorded a single out — and bafflingly, none of them were Neftali Feliz. A gassed C.J. Wilson started it off, Brett Gardner singled, and the old-school version of Derek Jeter doubled him all the way home (Brett Gardner, incidentally, will henceforth be known as “Zippy” in my household). Ron Washington turned to his bullpen, and came up with Darren Oliver – who although I’ve seen him pitch many times this season, my initial reaction is always “wow, he’s still playing?!” He is, and he proved it by walking the only two batters he faced, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. Next up was Darren O’Day, who came into the unenviable situation of bases loaded, zero outs, A-Rod at the plate. The result was a sharp single and two Yankee runs that made it 5-4… and another pitching change. Clay Rapada, come on down! (The Rangers bullpen is just Chock Full O’Lefties, not that it helped them tonight). His luck, or stuff, was no better, and Robinson Cano’s single tied the game. The Yankees had come all the way back, and were rewarded with yet another reliever: Derek Holland, who promptly allowed a single to Marcus Thames. A-Rod scored, clapped and pumped a fist, and the Yankees took the lead, 6-5.
Holland settled in and stopped the arterial bleeding after that, but it was too late – and where was Neftali Feliz? (As The Joker would say: “he’s at home, washing his tights!”) Joe Girardi is a fairly by-the-book guy, but he’s shown time and again that when things get tight in the eighth, he’ll go to Mariano Rivera, at home or on the road. Ron Washington has yet to reach similar conclusions, apparently.
Mariano Rivera came in for the ninth, of course, and outside of a Mitch Moreland single he was just fine. Fittingly, given the way the game started, it was Josh Hamilton who made the final out. It would’ve been a tough loss for the Yankees, but it turned into a tougher on for the Rangers – and it was only the fifth time in all of postseason history that a team came back from a deficit of four or more runs in the eight inning or later. Since it was only Game 1, I don’t know that this ranks at the top of great Yankees October comebacks, but it was still a hell of a win and a great start to the ALCS. Tune in tomorrow for the Phil Hughes Show.