7:11 PM AKDT, October 12, 2012
NEW YORK —
CC Sabathia stands nearly as tall and probably twice as wide as the Yankee Stadium right-field foul pole that Nate McLouth did or did not hit in the sixth inning of this early October night.
At 6-7 and, oh, 290, pounds, Sabathia stands nearly as tall as the impossibly high demands New York puts on its Yankees and only half as wide as the confidence his manager has in him.
So after Sabathia let out a grizzly-bear howl of satisfaction at the end of the eighth inning, and, again, after catcher Russell Martin disappeared into his bear hug when this 3-1 ALDS-clinching game against the stubborn Orioles was over, there wasn't anybody in all of baseball who'd deny that CC Sabathia stood tall and wide enough to save the Yankees season.
"He is our ace," manager Joe Girardi said simply. "That's the bottom line."
"He is the guy we want out there."
There has been so much talk in the past 20 years about the old days. The old days when starters started and starters finished. Talk about Gibson and Koufax, et al. Talk that with the advent of relief specialists and the era of the closer, starters are cheaper than their reputations as an ace.
Well, Sabathia went all the way Friday for the first time in his postseason career. He allowed a single to McLouth in the fourth and didn't allow another hit until a fairly messy eighth when he showed what an intense, immense battler he is.
In the end, his pitching line oozed with old-time greatness. Nine innings, four hits, one run, nine strikeouts, 121 pitches. He retired the first nine hitters and faced only 22 through seven innings — one more than the minimum — in becoming the first Yankee since Roger Clemens in 2000 to throw a complete postseason game. Another wide guy, David Wells, was the only other Yankee to do it in the ALDS in 1997.
Sabathia also went 8 2/3 to win Game 1, a tie game until the Yankees broke it open with five runs in the ninth. CC could get 54 possible outs in this series. He got 53. That's the most outs ever recorded by a Yankee pitcher in an ALDS.
That's being a horse, folks. Snorting, crooked cap, his loose pants flapping in the breeze, he was a beast.
"That's what I'm here for," Sabathia said. "The older I have gotten, the bigger games I have gotten to pitch, I have learned to keep my emotions under wraps. In 2007 [when he was shelled twice by the Red Sox in the ALCS while with Cleveland], my emotions got the best of me, definitely, in the playoffs."
There was plenty of reason to lose composure in the eighth inning. After Matt Wieters singled, CC walked Manny Machado. He struck out Mark Reynolds, but Lew Ford singled a run home. Robert Andino hit a high bouncer that CC fielded. He wanted to get a force at third, but nobody was covering. He threw late to second. Bases loaded, one out, it could have unraveled. It didn't. He struck out McLouth with a cutter and Derek Jeter made a nifty charge on J.J. Hardy's grounder to end the inning. CC threw his arms up and howled.
"I was actually trying to back off my emotions [to start the eighth] and try not to overthrow and leave the ball over the plate," Sabathia said. "After a few runners, that went out the window. I was all over the place. I went back to being aggressive with fastballs."
Girardi said that Sabathia's velocity was the highest it was all game in the eighth.
"If Hardy gets a hit there, I'm thinking about pulling him [for David Robertson]," Girardi said. "But the way he was going, it was his game. He wants the ball and he is very strong."
Shades of Jeffrey Maier, it isn't a Yankees-Orioles series if there isn't controversy in right field. With two out in the sixth, McLouth lifted a high fly that drifted inches past the pole. Right-field umpire Fieldin Culbreth ruled it foul before the umpires turned to the video replay option.
"Honestly, I didn't know if it was fair or foul," Sabathia said.
It was weird. On one replay it looked foul. On another it seemed like the ball nicked the pole and slightly changed direction. TBS cameras even froze the screen and enlarged the area. After their review, the umpires emerged to reconfirm that it was a foul ball. TBS reporter Craig Sager said a stadium usher told him the ball hit the pole, although he saw no evidence of yellow paint from the foul pole. An Associated Press reporter also saw no evidence. Some other fans said it was foul.
"I saw it go to the right of the pole," Culbreth said. "There's netting there and it didn't touch the netting. It did not change direction."
"We saw the same thing on the replay," crew chief Brian Gorman said. "There was no evidence to overturn the decision."
"Someone said it nicked the pole," said manager Buck Showalter, whose Orioles chased the Yankees all through September and to the bitter end of an incredibly tight series. "But that didn't beat us."
"He didn't pitch all five games, but it certainly felt like it," Showalter said. "He's a great pitcher. We had a shot there in the eighth, and he took it to another level."
Sabathia, 7-1 with the Yankees in the postseason, roared through the ninth. Girardi said that Wieters, who grounded out to Sabathia to the end the game, probably was going to be the last hitter he faced. And then he thought for a second.
"I wasn't going to pull him," Girardi said. "We have so much belief in CC. You think of what he has done since he got here. It has been an unbelievable run for him. He went through some ups and downs this year because of injuries, but he's gotten it right again and it's vintage CC."
Robinson Cano was 2-for-22 in the series. A-Rod, who was benched in favor of Eric Chavez in this game and has become a walking soap opera, was 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts. Nick Swisher was 2-for-18, and Curtis Granderson was the worst of all before he singled and homered in his late two at-bats. The Yanks hit .211 in the series, but look at the bright side, Yankees fans: The Orioles hit .187.
The starters were excellent in this series. Over 39 2/3 innings, they allowed only nine runs with a 2.04 ERA. CC was the best off all, winning both starts with a 1.53 ERA, and extending his postseason unbeaten streak to eight. Only Clemens (10), Andy Pettitte, Orlando Hernandez and David Cone (with 9) have longer unbeaten streaks in Yankee history. Still, at 15-6, this had been a trying 2012. His ERA of 3.38 was the highest in seven years and his win total was the lowest in six. Those 40 or so innings he missed, however, might also mean a fresher arm as the Yankees advance against Detroit.
"Even when he was going through some struggles, I knew he was going to get it right," Girardi said. "He's our ace."
Tall and wide, CC Sabathia is all of that.