For the second consecutive year rain delayed the start of the Yankee postseason. The start of the Bombers’ 2011 ALDS was a greater debacle, with the teams actually beginning the game before delaying it a full day due to weather. Sunday night’s game between the Yankees and Orioles started over two hours late thanks to bad weather, but once the rain cleared the two teams played, and they played a classic.
The Yankees got on the board immediately against Jason Hammel. Derek Jeter reached on an infield single in his first at-bat. Jeter took off for second while Ichiro Suzuki was batting and Suzuki roped a double into the gap in left center. Jeter came around to score and the Yankees were up one nothing. With Ichiro on second and nobody out the Bombers were poised for a big inning but Matt Wieters threw out Suzuki when he try to steal third. After that Hammel got his bearings and retired the Yankees without allowing another run to score.
CC Sabathia was brilliant for the Yankees. Some would argue that he looked like the CC of 2009. I would disagree – more on that in a minute. Sabathia gave the Yankees 8.2 innings, allowing just eight hits and one walk while striking out seven and giving up two runs. He battled. He ate innings. I wouldn’t say he dominated, but he was rock solid. CC didn’t even allow a base runner until the third inning when a series of singles from Chris Davis, Lew Ford and Nate McLouth led to two runs. Just like that it was 2 – 1 Baltimore.
Fortunately, Jason Hammel couldn’t shut it down. In their next at-bat the Yankees put Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez on base for Mark Teixeira. Tex had been awful after returning from the DL and has an established track record of poor playoff performances. Sunday was different. Tex hit a rocket off Hammel to deep right field. He missed a three-run homer by an inch. The ball bounced off the tall part of the wall in Camden Yards. In almost any other ball park that lands in the people. The hit was enough to score A-Rod and tie the game, but Baltimore got a friendly bounce and Mark was thrown out at second base. It was a tie ball game, but it was also the second time in a handful of innings that the Yankees gave up outs on the base paths.
After that, the pitchers took over. There were moments when both teams threatened. Occasionally Sabathia put the go ahead run on base. He may have bent, but he never broke. The teams found themselves locked in a 2 – 2 pitcher’s duel from the fourth inning onward. The only key difference was pitch count. Hammel was not efficient and would not be able to get his team past the sixth inning without throwing well over 100 pitches. Sabathia, on the other hand, had been efficient from the get-go. It was clear early that his low pitch count would allow him to flirt with a complete game. Combined, that meant that the later innings would feature a Baltimore reliever going up against the Yankee Ace. Raise your hand if you like those odds?
In the top of the ninth inning, with the score still tied at two apiece, Buck Showalter applied one of the old rules of baseball logic that makes me scratch my head the most. At home, with the score tied, he turned to his closer Jim Johnson. Where is it written that you have to use your closer – ostensibly the best reliever in your bullpen – when the game is tied in the ninth inning at home? How does it give you an advantage? How often does it seem like the closer comes in and blows the tie? Baltimore fans will tell you often.
Johnson was miserable. When the O’s needed him to be shut-down, he instantly gave up the go-ahead run in the form of a homer off the bat of Russell Martin. Martin hit a high fly ball just over the wall in left breaking what had been a four inning tie. And that was just the beginning. After that Raul Ibanez singled. Derek Jeter singled. Eduardo Nunez came on to run for Ibanez. Ichiro hit an infield single that scored Nunez from third and the Yankees had a two run lead. After an Alex Rodriguez strike out, the first out of the inning, Robinson Cano hit a double to left that scored Suzuki and Jeter. The Yankees had a four run lead. Nick Swisher would knock in Cano on a sacrifice. The inning ended after the Yankees scored five runs.
Shockingly, CC Sabathia came on to pitch the ninth, despite having already thrown over 100 pitches. He retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a double that brought Joe Girardi out of the dugout and David Robertson out of the bullpen. Robertson got the last out of the game – a strike out, of course.
Just like that the Yankees took a one game lead. That hasn’t meant much for the Bombers the past couple seasons. They had a one game lead in 2010 against the Rangers and in 2011 against the Tigers. Anything can happen. However, in Monday’s game Andy Pettitte faces off against Wei-Yin Chen. The pitching match up favors the Yankees but they don’t play these things on paper. The game is on TBS at 8pm.
On a final note, why didn’t I think this was a performance reminiscent of 2009? Sabathia’s early years with the Yankees featured a fastball consistently around 94 mph. He would use the pitch to paint the corners before going to his devastating off-speed offerings to get batters out. Sabathia’s out pitches – his changeup and his slider – have been there this year. When he’s struggled it has been with the fastball, which has lost some velocity. That velocity wasn’t there Sunday. CC never got much higher than 92 mph on the TBS gun. I didn’t see a pitcher who pulled a little something extra out of the tank to get back his lost velocity. I saw a pitcher who had learned to pitch around his diminished velocity to be just as effective as always. That’s much better.
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