When the 8th inning rolled around last night, the Yanks held a close but comfortable 4-1 lead over the Angels. CC Sabathia had thrown his 98th pitch to strike out Mike Napoli in the 7th, and he left with a fist pump and roar. Would be the Big Man come for an encore?
Indeed, as the Yanks hit in the 7th, no one was warming in their bullpen, and Sabathia came out for a 15-pitch 8th inning. He turned the ball over to Mo and eventually recorded the win. At the time, I thought nothing of it. CC, after all, routinely throws 110+ pitches, and he was rolling. There was just no reason to take him out.
Others covering the team thought otherwise. Let’s take Pete Caldera who was “just wondering” the following:
The Yankees seem to have this game well in hand, have the bullpen rested and ready and for some reason have decided to ride CC Sabathia through eight innings and 113 pitches. While that may not be that odd – it is just a 4-1 game right now – the Yankees have openly spoken of using him three times in this series. Seven innings wasn’t enough?
That’s right; even in a game in which the Yanks silenced the Angels and beat them by a sound three-run margin, Joe Girardi will be second-guessed. I can see why. When managing a playoff series, it’s important to strategize for the entire series as well the game currently being played. The Yankees need to look ahead to wait awaits them down the road while, at the same time, they have to take care of their current business. To start the 8th, the team had a 92.6 percent win probability, and the Yanks’ bullpen — especially in the 8th and 9th innings — is a strength.
I, however, do not believe that leaving Sabathia in was the wrong decision. Erick Aybar, Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu were 0 for 8 against the lefty so far, and they hadn’t come close to touching him. The Yankees also had to win Game 1, and Sabathia was the known quantity. The Yanks knew how he was throwing, and if he showed signs of trouble in the 8th, they could have warmed up Phil Hughes or even Mariano Rivera in a jiffy.
Girardi does need to look forward to Game 4 and Game 7, but at the same time, he can’t risk turning over Game 1 to a different — and potentially lesser — pitcher than Sabathia because a potential Game 7 looms. Maybe the Yanks make it to Tuesday’s Game 4 up 3-0, and the Yanks don’t need to use Sabathia on short rest. Maybe they do. But last night, they had to win Game 1, and CC Sabathia pitching the 8th gave them their best shot at getting the ball to Mo in the 9th. 113 pitches? That’s nothing for CC.