Mother Nature tried, but not even a two-hour and 26-minute rain delay could stop the Yankees and CC Sabathia. The ace wouldn’t allow his team to lose no matter how many run-scoring opportunities they blew early in the game, carrying the club until they mounted a five-run rally in the ninth. The Yankees took Game One of the ALDS by the score of 7-2.
Ichiro Good … And Bad
There was nothing I wanted more coming into the game/series than a first inning run(s). Scoring in the first inning while on the road, especially in the playoffs, is a good way to calm the nerves a bit. The Yankees struck for a run just two batters into the game, as Ichiro Suzuki followed Derek Jeter’s leadoff single with a double into the left-center field gap. Jason Hammel left the full count fastball right out over the plate and Jeter was running on the pitch, so he made it all the way home without a throw. The ball rolled all the way to the wall. Nine pitches into the game, the Yankees had a lead.
Unfortunately Ichiro giveth and Ichiro taketh away. He tried to steal third on the first pitch of Alex Rodriguez’s at-bat following the double, but got gunned down at third by Matt Wieters. I told you the Orioles are good at preventing the opposition from taking the extra base. Ichiro got a good jump and there was a right-handed hitter at the plate, but Wieters is just that damn good. Making the first out of the inning/series at third base like that was a big mistake by the veteran speedster, who was playing in his first playoff game since his rookie season.
Tex Good … And Bad
Because one base-running mistake wasn’t enough, the Yankees tacked on a second in the fourth inning for good measure. The Orioles took a 2-1 lead on a two-run Nate McLouth single in the bottom of the third (more on that in a bit), but they responded right away with the tying run in the top of the fourth. A-Rod got it all started with a leadoff walk, falling behind in the count 1-2 before taking some breaking balls off the plate for the free pass.
Now, for the life of me, I have no idea why Alex took off for second when Hammel had Cano in an 0-2 count one batter later. Robbie had fouled off two straight 0-2 pitches and A-Rod broke for second on the fifth pitch of the at-bat for no apparent reason. Maybe he was able to sneak a peek at the sign and knew a breaking ball was coming? Either way, it worked. Cano grounded out sharply to first, but Alex made it to second and was able to avoid the double play (but not without a funny slide). Nick Swisher followed with a six-pitch walk to put men on first and second with one out.
Mark Teixeira has really been struggling since coming back from his calf injury last week, and he popped up a total hanger in his first at-bat of the game. He should have destroyed the pitch. Hammel hung another breaking ball in Teixeira’s second at-bat, but the first baseman didn’t miss that one. The pitch was clobbered off the top of the scoreboard in right, scoring A-Rod easily. Unfortunately Tex got a little greedy and tried to stretch the hit into a double, only to be thrown out at second by Chris Davis. Hmmm, if only someone had warned the Yankees about his arm. Oh wait. Tying the score is great, but two outs on the bases in the first four innings of the series is two too many.
Homer, Hits, A Lead
Jim Johnson is, without question, one of the very best relievers in baseball. He uses a bowling ball mid-90s sinker to generate insane ground ball rates (like, 60%+), so naturally he rarely gives up homers, especially to right-handed batters. In fact, only two righties had taken him deep from May 2010 through September 2011, and one of them was Jesus Montero (twice) last September during his cup of coffee. Ryan Zimmerman was the other. Three pitches into his outing on Sunday, Russell Martin made it three right-handers to take him deep in the last 17 months. He sent a 2-0 sinker over the right field wall for a leadoff homer to break the two-all tie in the ninth.
Martin has provided a number of big hits down the stretch and this was certainly the biggest, but the Yankees weren’t content with a one-run lead. Five of the six batters Johnson faced reached base, including three consecutive singles by Raul Ibanez, Jeter, and Ichiro following Martin’s dinger. Ichiro’s was an infield single, a trickler up the first base line that scored pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez. Cano doubled into the left field corner to plate two more runs, then moved up to third on the throw home. Swisher rewarded Robbie’s heady base-running with a sacrifice fly to deep center to complete the rally. All five runs were charged to Johnson, who allowed exactly one run in the final 62 games of the Orioles season.
The Ace We Need, Not The Ace We Deserve
You can’t say enough about how just insanely awesome Sabathia was in Game One. He finished the regular season with three straight dominant outings and carried that right over in the ALDS, manhandling the Orioles for 8.2 innings and 120 pitches (80 strikes). Twenty-four of his 26 outs were recorded on the infield (13 grounders, seven strikeouts, four pop-ups), and the top six hitters of Baltimore’s order were a combined 3-for-23 with five strikeouts. He also broke no fewer than five bats by my unofficial count.
The Orioles did score a pair of runs in the third inning, which was mostly annoying because two left-handed hitters — Chris Davis (leadoff single) and McLouth (two-run single) — did almost all the damage. A Lew Ford ground ball single and a Robert Andino sac bunt were mixed in there as well. The pitch McLouth hit was a total hanger, a cement-mixer slider that spun out over the plate and didn’t break. Sabathia pitched out of a first and third with one out jam in the fifth (struck out McLouth, J.J. Hardy ground out) and more impressively pitched around a Hardy leadoff double in the eighth. Adam Jones struck out, Wieters popped up in foul territory, and Mark Reynolds grounded out to short. You really have to hand it to the guy, he really bore down and got the big outs when he needed too outside of that third inning.
Sabathia was able to pitch into the ninth because his pitch count was extremely manageable early on, as in seven pitches after one inning, 21 pitches after two, 30 pitches after three, 43 pitches after four, and 61 pitches after five. It’s one thing to be effective, it’s another to be both effective and efficient, which CC certainly was on Sunday. He crushed the birds with his offspeed stuff, throwing 21 of 31 changeups and 17 of 22 sliders (!) for strikes. They weren’t burying the slider in the dirt, Sabathia was spotting it at the knees and on the other half for called strikes and when he does that, he’s basically unhittable. He was out of this world good, just brilliant. Utterly dominant. Hard to believe Sabathia’s ace-dom was questioned earlier this summer.
The Yankees did blow two prime run-scoring chances in the middle innings, leaving men on first and second in the sixth and having a runner thrown out at home in the seventh. Curtis Granderson hit a long fly ball with two outs in the sixth, a ball that Davis was able to catch in that little cutout in the right field corner. Just unfortunate, that ball would have been several rows foul in most other parks. Martin was thrown out at the plate on the contact play when Ichiro grounded to second with the infield in in the seventh, making it three outs on the bases in the game. A full inning thrown away on the bases. At least they can look back and laugh at it, I guess.
Every starter reached base at least once, but most guys were on-base multiple times. Jeter (two singles, sac bunt), Ichiro (infield single, double), and Teixeira (double, single) all had two hits while Swisher singled and drew two walks. He and Teixeira reached base three times apiece. A-Rod drew the walk that led to the tying run in the fourth but otherwise struck out three times, twice in big situations. The Yankees had ten hits (seven singles, two doubles, one homer) and seven walks overall, going 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Most of that came in the ninth, but it all counts the same.
In addition to the huge homer, Martin had a great fifth inning behind the plate that didn’t go unnoticed. He made a nice pounce from behind the plate to grab Ford’s little grounder, then threw to first for the out while falling down. Teixeira gets an assist for a great scoop on the basee. Martin also blocked two pitches in the dirt that would have allowed the runner at third to score easily had they gotten away. Props for the strong inning.
David Robertson will be just a footnote in this game, but he came in to record the 27th out after Ford ended Sabathia’s night with a two-out double in the ninth. Robertson struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Flaherty on four pitches to end the game, nice and stress-free. The bullpen will be nice and fresh behind Andy Pettitte in Game Two on Monday leading up to Tuesday’s off-day. The Orioles, meanwhile, used pretty much all of their core relievers.
This was Sabathia’s ninth career start in Game One of a postseason series, the second most all-time behind Greg Maddux. Mad Dog did it eleven times. I sure hope Sabathia ties the record this year. CC’s five career Game One wins are tied with John Smoltz and Red Ruffing for the most in history. He was one out away from the first complete game by a Yankee in the postseason since Roger Clemens struck out 15 Mariners back in 2000. Remember that? Maybe the best pitched postseason game I’ve ever seen.
Box Score & WPA Graph
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. If you’re a glutton for punishment and want some bad news, the Yankees are just 4-6 in ALDS series when they win the first game. They’re actually 6-1 when they drop Game One. Screw that though, gimme that 1-0 lead in the series eight days a week and twice on Sundays.
Nothing fancy here, it’s Game Two of the ALDS on Monday night (8:07pm ET on TBS). The Yankees will send Pettitte to the mound against fellow left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. Going home to the Bronx up 2-0 in the best-of-five series sure would be swell, don’t you think?