Note: We’ll also be supplying recaps for YES during the playoffs. You can check out the Game 1 recap over at YES’s site.
It’s been nearly two full years since the Yankees last played a playoff game (two years tomorrow, actually), but the bad taste left in everyone’s mouth was washed out tonight. Many questioned what CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez would bring to the table after such brilliant regular seasons, and the pair answered those questions with authority.
Sabathia started the game off with two quick strikes to Denard Span, but the count eventually ran full and Span dumped a well-placed double into the left-centerfield gap. CC rebounded to strikeout the annoying Orlando Cabrera with a series of heaters and a two strike slider, then did the same to imminent MVP Joe Mauer. The molten hot Michael Cuddyer (.325-.398-.675 since mid-September) lofted a broken bat pop up to center that landed comfortably in Melky’s mitt. It took 22 pitches, but CC and the Yankees escaped the first inning unscathed.
Derek Jeter, as he did so often this year, led off the bottom of the first with a first pitch single through the 5.5 hole. Johnny Damon followed with a 2-2 pop up just beyond the infield, and Mark Teixeira ripped a tailor made inning ending GIDP ball, except Jeter was running on the play and made it to second safely. Twins starter Brian Duensing quickly got ahead of A-Rod 0-2 before the third baseman spoiled a few high fastballs. He fisted the next one into right, but the wind didn’t give enough of a push, and the inning was over.
The second inning came and went without much fanfare, but Nick Punto led off the third inning with a single back up the middle after taking what should have been called strike three. The speedy Span grounded right to A-Rod for a rally killing 5-4-3 DP, setting up a nice and easy two outs, none on situation. Or at least what should have been nice and easy. Orlando Cabrera somehow singled after getting seven (seven!) pitches out of the zone, then moved to third on a Mauer double. Michael Cuddyer Jetered a nice outside pitch into the opposite field for a quick 1-0 lead, but the real damage was done when Jorge Posada allowed his second passed ball of the game, then made it worse by lolligagging it when he went to retrieve the ball. Mauer scored from third on the play, and Minnesota had a 2-0 lead. Sabathia rebounded to strikeout Kubel to end the frame, but the Twinkies were on the board and CC’s pitch count was already up to 64 pitches.
After beating out an infield single with one out, Melky moved over to third on a Joe Mauer passed ball. After taking a fastball out of the zone, Jeter did something we don’t see him do often: he pulled a ball for a homerun. The game was tied, the New Stadium was alive, and all was right in the universe. The score stayed that way until the fourth when Posada reached by dunking a single into no man’s land. He was out at second on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Robbie Cano, but exchanging an out for a faster runner would soon prove beneficial. Duensing drew a quick 0-2 count on 4th outfielder Nick Swisher, but Swish worked the count even, then drove Cano in from first with a double down the leftfield line. Expletives were yelled, high fives were had, but most importantly, the Yankees had the lead.
Perhaps just as important as the runs scored was the shutdown work by Sabathia in the next frame. After the Yanks tied the game in the third, CC went out and retired the next three Twins in order on just 12 pitches. When the Yanks went out and took the lead the next inning, Sabathia again tossed up a scoreless frame, this time with 11 pitches. Shutdown innings after scoring runs like those embody an ace pitcher, and Sabathia certainly qualifies as that.
A day without learning is a day wasted, and today we learned that A-Rod is able to pad his stats even in October. His RBI single in the 5th gave the Yanks a two run lead and little breathing room. After Ron Gardenhire replaced his lefty starter with a lefty reliever to face the lefty hitter with a reverse platoon split (got it?), Matsui dropped a bomb over Baghdad the centerfield fence, and the Yanks had a four run lead. It was all they’d need.
Even though he was somewhat rocky in the early going, Sabathia squashed the “he can’t pitch in October” meme by allowing two runs (one earned) in six and two-thirds innings. He struck out eight, including the uberhot trio of Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young a combined five times. 71 of 113 pitches were strikes, but he was getting squeezed a bit, particularly on that Punto pitch in the second. Sabathia retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced, throwing 58 fastballs, 21 changeups, and 26 sliders while topping out at 95.3 mph. It certainly wasn’t his best night stuff-wise, but the Yanks ace battled and gave his team a quality start.
That four run lead became a five run lead late in the game, when Alex Rodriguez, he who can not hit in the playoffs, ripped a hard hit single off reliever Jon Rauch, scoring Derek Jeter, who was on base four times. A-Rod came to the plate with runners on base in three of his four plate appearances, and twice he drove home a run. It was exactly what we all wanted to see from A-Rod … from A-Rod and Sabathia really, two high priced imports with October demons, no matter how unfounded they may have been.
The relief corps of Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and Mariano Rivera made the late innings a breeze, and the Yanks took Game One in relatively easy fashion. Game Two of the best-of-three series won’t be played until Friday, when AJ Burnett and his personal catcher Jose Molina take on Nick Blackburn and his AL worst 240 hits allowed and AL worst 4.29 K/9. Talk about polar opposites.