For the first time in six Octobers, a World Series game was played in the Bronx tonight. Given how things unfolded, maybe the Yankees wished it had just kept raining. That’s about the only thing that could have stopped Cliff Lee tonight.
The game started in rather ominous fashion, when CC Sabathia loaded the bases in the first on a walk, a double, and another walk with two outs, only to escape unscathed when Raul Ibanez bounced a 3-1 pitch to second for a routine groundout. It was apparent from the get-go that Sabathia was going to have to be on his game tonight to match Lee, who was dealing right from the very first pitch.
Working at a feverish pace and pounding the zone, Lee struck out seven batters through the first four innings, and needed less than three pitches per batter (2.86 to be exact) to record his first twelve outs. After dominating the Rockies twice in the NLDS and the Dodgers once in the NLCS, it didn’t look like coming back to face an AL lineup affected the southpaw from Arkansas at all.
Sabathia, on the other hand, clearly wasn’t his usual self tonight. He still gave his team seven good innings and a start that on most nights would have secured him a win, but on this particular night four hits and two runs was just too many. His two most costly pitches of the night came against the same batter, Chase Utley, who drove each pitch into the rightfield seats for a solo homer.
In the third inning, Utley fouled off five pitches as part of a nine pitch at-bat before driving a fastball that drifted too far out over the plate into the people, and in the sixth he turned around a similar fastball down 0-2 in the count for his second jack. The last time Sabathia served up two homers to a lefty batter in the same game is also the last time he gave up two homers to one batter in the same game, Opening Day 2008 when Jim Thome got him twice.
Despite Utley’s heroics, the story of the night was clearly Cliff Lee, who for nine innings kept the Yankees off balance with a hearty mix of fastballs, cutters, changeups, and curveballs. He threw first pitch strikes to just half of the 32 batters he faced, but it seemed like he was constantly ahead of the Yankee hitters all night. Only one batter reached second base prior to the ninth inning, and no batter drew a walk after the Yanks took 47 of them as a team in their first nine playoff games. Lee was dominant in every sense of the word, allowing just the one garbage time unearned run and striking out ten against just six baserunners.
In a lineup noted for it’s patience, no Yankee hitter saw more than 18 pitches in Game One. The two through four hitters went a combined 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts, three by playoff hero Alex Rodriguez. The Cap’n was the only player able to muster consistent offense, going 3-for-4 with a double from the lead off spot.
Outside of Damaso Marte, the Yankees bullpen just flat out did not get the job done. Phil Hughes walked both batters he faced – two guys with a combined .327 OBP on the year – in the eighth, and Brian Bruney was nothing short of atrocious in the ninth. The tack on runs hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things, but Joe Girardi seems to be running short on trustworthy arms out there.
The good news for the Yankees is that the Paul O’Neill theory is in effect for Game Two, and the even better news is that Cliff Lee can’t pitch every game. Old buddy Pedro Martinez will come back to the Bronx tomorrow, pitching against an AL lineup in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. He’ll be opposed by AJ Burnett, who has lost just once at home in the last two months.
The winner of Game One has won 11 of the last 12 World Series, with the lone exception being the 2002 Giants. But remember, the Yankees dropped the first two to Atlanta in 1996, including the first game by a 12-1 score. This thing is far from over.