ALDS GAME 5: KEY MOMENT
Baseball pundits have made a cottage industry out of criticizing the New York Yankees for the advanced age of their team as if the second a player turns 30 he starts hitting like Jose Molina or pitching like Kevin Millwood.
But one of the reasons they have a number of players who 30 years old or older is the same reason why CC Sabathia beat the Baltimore Orioles on Friday to advance the Yankees to the American League Championship Series.
In Sabathia’s first five postseason starts up to when he was age 28, he was 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA. In the past four postseasons with the Yankees up to age 32, Sabathia is 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA.
Entering the eighth inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles, Sabathia had given up just one hit and one walk while he had a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead.
But things began to look as if they were unraveling when Matt Wieters led off the inning with a solid single to left and Sabathia walked rookie Manny Machado on just five pitches.
From this point on in the inning, the game was at a tipping point because if any of the Orioles hit a home run at this juncture then the game would be tied. If Sabathia might have been a younger and less experienced pitcher in postseason play he might have cracked.
After a strikeout of Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford followed with a single to left to score Wieters.
Now if any Orioles hitter were to hit a home run, the Orioles would take the lead. You could bet there were a few Tums moments in the Yankee dugout for manager Joe Girardi. He wanted his ace pitcher to get out of this but he also realized that the team’s success was more important.
Crazy plays happen in baseball all the time. They pop up at strange moments like this and they did when Robert Andino bounced a ball to the right of Sabathia.
Sabathia sprang off the mound to field it but he realized that he could not throw the ball to third because Eric Chavez was not on the base. Andino has some speed so first would have been out.
So Sabathia threw the ball to second but Ford slid into the bag before the ball arrived.
A lesser experienced postseason pitcher might have completely unraveled at this point. The bases were full and there was only one out.
On top of that, the Orioles best hitter in the series, Nate McLouth, was up with nowhere to put him.
“It’s what I’m here for,” Sabathia said, “It’s what I play the game for. I guess I should feel a little pressure or something like that, but I don’t.”
Girardi had right-hander David Robertson throwing in the bullpen but he stuck with his experienced ace left-hander against McLouth even though McLouth had narrowly missed hitting a home run in the sixth inning.
A crowd of 47.081 huddled in the October chill crossing their fingers and praying Sabathia could hold onto this most precious of leads. The Yankees’ hopes for a 28th world championship were riding on it.
Sabathia had learned by the time he came to the Yankees there was a big difference between throwing and pitching. Early in his career, Sabathia could throw hard and so that is all he did. Now Sabathia throws less hard but he is even better because he mixes in his curve, his slider and change-up more.
That is what Sabathia did with McLouth.
His first pitch was a called strike, a slider at 83 miles per hour. McLouth then weakly fouled off a 95-mph fastball. After Sabathia tried a 82-mph slider in the dirt for a ball, he came back with a higher 82-mph slider with which McLouth was unable to make contact.
Sabathia then had face J.J. Hardy, a power-laden shortstop who bats right-handed.
The big left-hander started Hardy off with a change-up off the outside corner for a ball. He then muscled up on a 94-mph fastball that challenged Hardy but Hardy took it for a strike.
Sabathia then put Hardy into a huge hole by getting him to offer and miss at another change-up.
Then catcher Russell Martin and Sabathia agreed to try Sabathia’s trademark slider that runs down the middle of the plate like a fastball but takes an abrupt turn right and dives to the inside corner on a right-handed hitter.
Hardy did make contact, but all he could do was roll it weakly back to Sabathia. The veteran lefty moved about three steps toward first and flipped the ball gently to Mark Teixeira to get out of a harrowing bases-loaded jam with the game on the line.
“He was just dominant — he shows why he’s making all that money,” Martin said. “He’s the man. He’s the horse of this team. It’s fun to be back there and try to direct him. He’s been awesome.”
Girardi’s faith in his ace proved to be well-founded. Sabathia was able to pitch his way out of trouble instead of throwing as hard as he could like he did when he could hit 98-mph on the radar gun.
Sabathia would go on to retire the Orioles in the ninth for his first postseason career complete game and the Yankees rode his back into the American League Championship Series.
Along with Sabathia, the Yankees have Andy Pettitte as a starter at age 40 and Hiroki Kuroda at age 37. But do not mistake the advanced age of their pitchers to be synonymous with old, washed up has-beens.
The reason why the Yankees win in the playoffs is because their pitchers and their players like Raul Ibanez at age 40 do not panic. They simply play the game and let it come to them instead of trying too hard.
Sabathia proved that in the eighth inning when he bent but did not break. He was tested but he remained calm. That is what experience gives you that raw talent could never surpass.
“He is our ace,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. He has been there and done that.”
To ride a horse is to ride the sky.
– Author Unknown
GAME 5 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 1
The New York Yankees entered the postseason with one unquestioned ace. The Baltimore Orioles entered the postseason saying that their best pitcher was the pitcher scheduled to pitch that day. Unfortunately for the Orioles, not having that one horse you can ride throughout the postseason proved to be the difference in this series.
CC Sabathia pitched his first career postseason complete game and he struck out a personal postseason best nine batters on Friday to lead New York to an ALDS-clinching victory in Game 5 over upstart Baltimore in front of a raucous paid crowd of 47,081 at Yankee Stadium.
With the victory, the American League East-champion Yankees will advance to the American League Championship Series and host the American League Central-champion Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Sabathia (2-0) gave up one run on four hits and two walks and threw 78 of his 121 pitches for strikes to run his ALDS record with the Yankees to 5-0 and he remains undefeated in his last eight postseason starts. In addition, he ran his career record against the Orioles, including his two postseason victories in the series, to 18-4.
The game unfolded as yet another pitchers’ duel between Sabathia and Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel (0-1), who also squared off in Game 1 of the series.
Both pitchers retired the first nine batters they faced until Nate McLouth slapped an opposite-field single to left off Sabathia to open the fourth inning.
Hammel, however, extended his perfect streak through four innings until Mark Teixeira opened the fifth with a single over the Orioles’ overshift into right-field. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to make the Orioles pay for not bothering to hold Teixeira on first base, as they have done through the entire series.
Teixeira stole second after swiping only two bases in the regular season and not stealing any in his career in postseason play. Teixeira then scored the first run of the game on a single up the middle by Game 3 hero Raul Ibanez.
Yankee fans got a bit of a pre-Halloween scare with two out in the sixth when McLouth hit a ball down the right-field line that was ruled a foul ball. The Orioles protested the call but the umpires upheld the original call of foul after a brief video review indicated the ball clearly traveled in front of the foul pole as it landed in the second deck. Sabathia then struck out McLouth to end the inning.
Hammel ran into more problems in the sixth when he issued a one-out walk to Derek Jeter and Jeter scored a line-drive double off the 385-foot marker in right-center by Ichiro Suzuki.
Two batters later, Hammel was removed from the game by Orioles manager Buck Showalter after yielding two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six batters in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees padded their lead in the seventh inning when Curtis Granderson, who entered Game 5 of the series 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts, blasted a solo home run down the line in right into the second deck off Orioles left-hander Troy Patton.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Sabathia began the eighth inning having pitched a dominant one-hitter and he issued a lone walk to Matt Wieters in the fifth inning.
But Yankee fans had to bite their nails when Sabathia gave up a leadoff single to Wieters and a walk to Manny Machado. After Sabathia fanned Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford slapped a single into left to score Wieters and break up Sabathia’s shutout.
Sabathia then induced Robert Andino to hit a weak comebacker to Sabathia’s right of the mound. However, Sabathia threw to second too late to get a sliding Ford in what was scored a single.
With the crowd nervous for the first time all afternoon, Sabathia wriggled out of the inning by striking out McLouth and getting J.J. Hardy on a slow hopper to Jeter at short.
With his ace having thrown 29 pitches in the eighth and 111 pitches overall, Girardi – who bravely elected to bench Alex Rodriguez for this game in favor of Eric Chavez – opted to have Sabathia finish out the contest.
Girardi was determined to ride his big horse to the end.
It took Sabathia only 11 pitches to get Adam Jones on a routine fly to center, Chris Davis on a swinging strikeout and Wieters on a comebacker to himself. Sabathia trotted three strides towards first base and easily flipped the ball to Teixeira to put the final nail in the coffin to the Orioles’ improbable playoff run.
Over the course of the season, the Yankees defeated the Orioles in 12 of 23 games and outscored them by four runs. In this series, they were 3-2 and outscored the Birds 16-10.
By virtue of having the best record in the American League, the Yankees will have home-field advantage in the best-of-seven ALCS. It will be the team’s 15th appearance in the championship series and their first since the 2010 season.
- Though the Yankees blew a chance to begin the ALCS with Sabathia on the mound when they lost Thursday, the ace left-hander bailed them out with a truly dominant outing. In his two games in the series, Sabathia was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA. He gave up just three runs on 12 hits and two walks and struck out 16 in 17 2/3 innings. In what definitely was a pitchers’ series, Sabathia was clearly the Most Valuable Player.
- Ibanez came through with another crucial hit in the series to drive in the game’s first run. Though he only received nine at-bats in the series, Ibanez had four hits, including a game-tying and game-winning homer, and three RBIs. In benching, Rodriguez, who was 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts, Ibanez was placed in the No. 5 spot in the order and he came through again.
- Granderson probably deserved to be benched as much as A-Rod, but he was 2-for-3 with a home run in the game. After a regular season in which Granderson led the team in home runs and RBIs, he was conspicuous in his struggles through the first four games of the series. Now he has something positive going for him leading up the ALCS.
I could mention the awful hitting of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Rodriguez and Granderson. But you can say the same about Jones, Wieters, Reynolds and Hardy of the Orioles. This was a pitchers’ series and both teams staffs held the other team down for long stretches. The difference was the Orioles did not have anyone who could match the brilliance of Sabathia.
It is not often that a three-time A.L. MVP and the highest-priced player on the payroll is benched for the deciding game of a postseason series, but Girardi informed Rodriguez via text message at about 1 p.m. EDT that he would not be starting Game 5. A-Rod replied, “I will be ready of you need me.” Rodriguez had been pinch-hit for in Game 3 and Game 4 of the series. He did not play in Game 5. Chavez played third batted and batted ninth. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. . . . Reliever Joba Chamberlain was unavailable for Friday’s game due to a swollen and bruised right elbow he sustained when he was struck by a piece of a shattered bat in the 12th inning of Thursday’s game. His status for the ALCS is unclear and he is listed as day-to-day.
After the Yankees were bounced out the 2011 ALDS in five games by the Tigers last season, the Yankees will be looking a measure of revenge in 2012. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series will be Saturday.
The Yankees will start left-hander Andy Pettitte (0-1, 3.86), who gave up three runs in seven innings of a tough-luck 3-2 loss to the Orioles in Game 2 on Monday. In 23 career starts against the Tigers, Pettitte is 10-9 with a 3.66 ERA. But he is 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his seven starts at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Doug Fister (0-0, 2.57 ERA). Fister gave up two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven innings in Game 2 in a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Fister is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA lifetime against the Yankees. Although Fister won the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees last season, he was 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA against them in the series.
Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.