For the first time in 2010, the Yankees on Friday night played a team that hasn’t appeared in an American League Championship Series within the last two seasons. The Rangers haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade, but they’re a formidable opponent that features the league’s hottest hitter and some of the best young arms in the game. Luckily for the Yanks, they had their best on the mound to keep the hot start going as the team won a game shortened by rain 5-1.
Biggest Play: Curtis Granderson reaches on a fielder’s choice
All during the postseason, we saw the supposedly fundamentally sound Twins and Angels shoot themselves in the foot with botched plays game after game, and the same was true on Friday. Granderson stepped to the plate against lefty C.J. Wilson in the 4th inning with the bases juiced and the score tied at one. He fell behind 0-2 on fastballs before a third heater missed the zone for a ball. The fourth pitch was a slider that dove down, but Granderson got enough of it to tap it towards first. Long story short, Chris Davis threw the ball away as he attempted to turn the 3-6-3 double play (photo above), resulting in two runs for the Bombers.
As good as CC Sabathia was in this game (we’ll get to that a little later), Wilson matched him up until the 4th inning, and before the frame was over the Yankees led 4-1. With rain in the forecast and Sabathia on his game, that lead might as well have been 30.
Biggest Out: Nelson Cruz goes down on strikes
I’m going to go against the WPA grain here to say that Cruz’s backwards K to end the first was the biggest out of the night. Texas pushed across a run for a first inning lead when Vlad Guerrero drove in Michael Young on a sac fly, which brought the America League leader in homers (six), RBI (12), SLG (1.063), and OPS (1.510) to the plate with a man on second with two outs.
If Sabathia makes a mistake, there’s a very good chance the Yankees could have been down three runs before even coming to the plate, which changes everything. Instead, he got Cruz to foul off both a fastball and a changeup on the outer half for a quick 0-2 count, but couldn’t get him to commit to a slider and changeup in the dirt for the strikeout, so the count went even at 2-2. Cruz is a free swinger, but Sabathia and Frankie Cervelli didn’t mess around by trying to get him to chase something out of the zone, they went with the old reliable number one, pouring a 92 mph heater on the inside for a called strike three. The early threat was neutralized, the Yankees were down just one, and Sabathia would never look back.
For the record, WPA says that Michael Young’s fielder’s choice that saw Julio Borbon forced out at second with no outs in the 6th was the biggest out recorded by Sabathia on the night.
Carsten Charles In Charge
The only thing that could stop the Yankees’ ace tonight was Mother Nature. CC Sabathia rolled right through the Rangers’ lineup after the first inning, striking out six in a row from the 2nd through 4th innings, and retiring 12 in a row from the 2nd through 5th. He threw 61 pitches through the first five innings, just 11 of which were balls.
Rain forced Sabathia from the game after just six innings and 73 pitches (58 strikes, 79.5%), which might not have been the worst thing in the world considering his massive workload last season. Every little break helps. Of the 22 batters Sabathia faced, not one saw a three ball count, and just five worked a two ball count. Only two got a first pitch ball. Two! Take a look at this strike zone plot, that’s what pounding the zone looks like.
CC struck out nine or more five times last year, but the first instance didn’t come until August 8th. He beat that by nearly four months this year. His initials stood for cruise control on Friday night, he had it all working and threw everything for strikes. Over his last two starts, Sabathia’s allowed just six baserunners (four hits, two walks) and one run in 13.2 IP with 14 strikeouts. I thought this guy was supposed to struggle in April?
It’s so easy to like Cervelli with his big doofy helmet and all out hustle and infectious energy, so it was fun to see him single in a run after Granderson’s fielder’s choice.
Brett Gardner stealing second on a pitch out. Fastest white guy in America. Granderson fouled off six pitches in an 11 pitch at-bat just prior to Gardner’s steal, which qualifies for one hell of an at-bat. Considering it was against a lefty, it’s even more impressive.
This win combined with the Blue Jays’ loss to the Angels gives the Yankees sole possession of first place in the AL East, and they’re tied with the Twins for the best record in the AL.
There’s not much that could have bothered even the most pessimistic of fans this game. Nick Johnson got thrown out on a straight steal to end the 3rd, but the replay showed he was either safe, or damn close to it. That’s about it.
You can get the full breakdown at FanGraphs’ box score.
Quick turn around, as these two teams are back at it tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm ET. A.J. Burnett goes for the good guys, Scott Feldman for the Rangers.