For the third time in the last four years, the Yankees are headed to the ALCS. CC Sabathia carried his teammates to the ALDS finish line against the Orioles, throwing a 121-pitch complete game in the Game Five win.
CCan’t Be Beat
The Yankees are paying Sabathia an awful lot of money for games like this. The Orioles had pushed them all season long, first for the division title and then in the ALDS, forcing a decisive Game Five in their first postseason series since 1997. Both offenses came into the game struggling in a major way, and it really felt like the first team to score would win. Sabathia made sure that would be his team.
The Yankees and Orioles traded perfect innings until (who else?) Nate McLouth slapped a single to left to open the fourth. Sabathia retired the next three batters without a problem, as he did following a leadoff walk to Matt Wieters in the fifth. Those were the only Orioles to reach base in the first seven innings, but the do or die moment(s) came in the eighth. The Yankees had a 3-0 lead (more on that in a bit), but a Wieters single and a five-pitch walk by Manny Machado brought the tying run to the plate with no outs.
Sabathia’s pitch count was a very manageable 89 at this point, but he started to leave some pitches up and out of the zone, particularly away to right-handers. That’s how he fell behind in the count 3-1 to Mark Reynolds, a hitter who was very capable of tying the game with one swing. CC pumped a fastball in the zone for foul before putting him away with a slider on the outside corner for strike three. That was one out. Lew Ford followed by slapping a single past a diving Derek Jeter at shortstop, scoring Wieters from second and again giving the Orioles first and second with one out.
Suddenly the game was very uncomfortable. The tying run was on-base, the go-ahead run was at the plate, and the season was on the line. Sabathia went to a 2-2 count on Robert Andino, who chopped a little grounder to the third base side of the mound. CC fielded the ball, look to the unoccupied third base (Eric Chavez had charged the ball), then fired to second for no out. Machado had beat the throw. The bases were loaded with one out and Baltimore’s best hitter — how messed up is it that McLouth was their best hitter? that’s just not cool — was at the plate.
Sabathia was laboring but Joe Girardi stuck with his ace to get the left-left matchup, and his faith was rewarded when CC struck out McLouth on four pitches. The fourth pitch was a wipeout slider down-and-away, Sabathia’s money maker. The Yankees escaped the jam one batter later as J.J. Hardy showed the world his Molina-esque speed — he hit a soft hopper to Jeter that I thought had infield single written all over it, but the Cap’n fired over to first to get Hardy by two full steps. Hard to believe a shortstop could be that slow.
Girardi elected to stick with Sabathia for another inning, and he fired off a perfect ninth inning for the complete game, the first of his postseason career. I don’t think the final line — 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K — actually does CC justice since he labored in exactly one inning. Outside of that eighth inning, the Orioles had two baserunners. Two. As has been the norm of late, Sabathia buried hitters with his offspeed stuff, throwing just 62 four-seam fastballs out of 121 pitches. Twenty-one of his 27 sliders went for strikes (!), including ten swings and misses (!!). Only 11 of his 22 changeups went for strikes, but he used it not necessarily to finish hitters off, but to get ahead in the count.
Sabathia was utterly dominant not just in Game Five, but in both of his ALDS starts. He struck out 16 and walked just three, allowing only a dozen hits. CC recorded 53 of the 54 possible outs in his two starts (!!!), setting a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitched. The previous record was 16, held by Justin Verlander (2012) and Cliff Lee (2010). The previous Yankees record was 15.2 by David Cone in the 1995 ALDS. Coincidentally enough, Cone threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game. Sabathia was a monster for the Yankees in the biggest game of the season, continuing a stretch of pure dominance late in the season. What a stud. A true ace.
As I said earlier, both offenses were struggling in a big way coming into the game. Teams will take risks when they’re struggling to score runs, and for the Yankees that meant having Mark Teixeira steal a base. I’m not joking. Even with his bum calf and the best throwing catcher in the league behind the plate, Teixeira swiped second base with no outs after his leadoff single in the fifth. He was the team’s first baser-runner of the day.
The Orioles, of course, helped the Yankees out a bit. They were not holding Teixeira on first even though there were no outs, allowing him to take a nice big lead. He got a great jump and beat the throw without much of a problem. That’s basically what needs to happen for Teixeira to steal a base — the other team kinda has to forget about him. Raul Ibanez came through yet again as the next batter, plating the run with a ground ball single back up the middle. Teixeira chugged in without a throw and the Yankees were up 1-0 just like that.
Out Of The Infield
Since the entire series was close, I think the Yankees did our collective blood pressure a favor by tacking on an insurance run in the sixth inning. Jeter walked with one out then made it all the way home when Ichiro Suzuki ambushed a first pitch fastball from Jason Hammel. He clobbered the pitch off the wall in the right-center field gap, only the fourth ball he hit out of the infield in the series. Despite the bone bruise on his right foot, the Cap’n looked more than fine rounding the bases and had no trouble playing shortstop. After four tight and stressful games, the two-run lead felt like a 200-run lead.
The Grandyman Can
Through the first four games of the series, Curtis Granderson had a .180 OPS. Yes, OPS. He was flailing at everything and looking so lost at the plate that I wanted him benched. Girardi instead kept his 43-homer man in the lineup, and Curtis responded by going deep off left-hander Troy Patton in the seventh inning to make it a three-run lead. It was a bomb, landing several rows up the second deck in right. After the game, Granderson credited Ibanez for his five-pitch a-bat against Patton an inning prior, which gave him a sense of how he would be pitched. He homered on the same 2-1 slider that Ibanez fouled off. Raul does it all, eh?
McLouth very nearly hit a solo homer in the sixth inning, one inning after the Yankees took the lead. He yanked the ball right down the right field line, but it sailed just foul. The play was close enough that the umpires went to the instant replay system to confirm the call on the field. TBS then went up to that section of seats and asked the usher what he saw, which I found kinda funny. We can laugh now, but it definitely was no laughing matter at the time. I think we were all in “hold on for dear life” mode once they scored that first run.
Alex Rodriguez, obviously, sat the game out in favor of Chavez against the right-handed Hammel. Chavez went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and I thought it was pretty telling that Girardi opted to stick with Ibanez against the left-handed Patton with men on first and second with two outs in the seventh rather than pinch-hit with A-Rod. Raul struck out to end the inning, and I think the only thing that would have been more damning for Alex was if Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez got the call to pinch-hit instead. It’s kinda weird that both clubs had a member of the 600-homer club on the bench (the Orioles sat Jim Thome against Sabathia), something that I can’t imagine has happened before.
Granderson (2-for-3 with the homer) stole a base in that fifth inning as well, and I’m sure Wieters hasn’t had many two-steal innings in his relatively young career. He threw out 39% of base-stealers this season and the Orioles only allowed 63 steals as a team in 2012, by far the fewest among all AL clubs. Granderson didn’t score, but it goes to show how aggressive the Yankees were going to be as two of the first three players to reach base tried to steal (and succeeded).
The Yankees only had five hits overall — Teixeira’s single, Ibanez’s single, Granderson’s single, Ichiro‘s double, and Granderson’s homer — but they also drew three walks (Jeter, Ichiro, Teixeira). Nick Swisher (0-for-3), Robinson Cano (0-for-4), and Russell Martin (0-for-3) contributed nothing offensively. The first dozen Yankees to bat made outs, but eight of the final 18 (.444 OBP) reached base. Let’s hope that late-inning success is an indication that the offense is starting to wake up.
Just to tie a bow on it all, the pitching staff finished the series having allowed just ten runs in 51 total innings (1.76 ERA). They struck out 42 and walked just eight batters. The Orioles scored more than two runs just once, and that was the three they scored in Game Two. Sabathia’s Game Score (82) was the best by a Yankee since Roger Clemens’ gem in Game Two of the 2000 World Series. The pitching staff was on point all series, what a job by those guys.
Box Score & WPA Graph
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. Believe it or not, this is the first time the Yankees have beaten a non-Twins teams in the ALDS since beating the Athletics back in 2001. Nice to have that monkey off the back. The Bombers are 11-3 all-time in the ALCS, which honestly surprised me. Better than being 3-11 though, so I’ll take it.
Rest? There’s no time for rest. The Yankees and Tigers kick off the ALCS on Saturday night, when Andy Pettitte gets the ball against Doug Fister. Both pitchers will be on regular rest (actually more in Fister’s case). That game is scheduled to start at 8:07pm ET.