Rocky 1st inning hurts Sabathia; Yankees recover

CC Sabathia was so bad in the first inning of the AL

championship series Friday night that his best pitch might have

been one that bounced off the backstop.

It sure wasn’t the one that Josh Hamilton put over the wall. Or

the four in a row that walked the No. 8 hitter.

Pitching nine days after his last outing, Sabathia opened the

ALCS looking like anything but the ace who led the New York Yankees

to the World Series title last year.

The Yankees found a way to win anyway, turning a 5-0 deficit

when Sabathia left into a 6-5 victory in Game 1.

”They’ve bailed me out before,” Sabathia said. ”I’ve got to

go out and pitch better next time out.”

Sabathia allowed five runs in four innings, by far his worst

start in six postseason games since joining the Yankees. It also

was the shortest of his 36 starts in the regular season and

playoffs in 2010.

”He was definitely off today,” manager Joe Girardi said. ”But

he didn’t give up 10 runs. He kept it at five and we were able to

come back.”

Sabathia wasn’t comfortable from the start.

Tugging at his uniform, stepping on and off the rubber, sweating

heavily, he gave up three runs in the opening inning. It could have

been worse if the pitch that ricocheted off the wall behind home

plate hadn’t turned into an inning-ending out.

”I felt great, I felt strong,” he said. ”I just had no

fastball command. … I don’t want to make any excuses. I couldn’t

throw the ball over the plate.”

With New York using a four-man rotation, Sabathia will be back

on regular rest for his next start in Game 5 on Wednesday night –

that is, if the series goes that long.

Sabathia wasn’t sharp in the opener last round, either, which he

blamed on a long layoff. He actually had a longer wait this time

but threw more in hopes of keeping his mechanics intact.

It didn’t work.

He opened with a walk, then a hard-hit single. Both scored on

the homer by Hamilton, who had been 1 for 10 against Sabathia. That

put the Yankees down 3-0 before they had recorded an out.

Two more hits and a walk loaded the bases with two outs,

bringing Derek Jeter to the mound for what appeared to be more

advice than encouragement.

Disaster seemed to strike when Sabathia uncorked a pitch that

went to the wall a good 40 feet beyond home plate. Instead, a

perfect carom brought it back to catcher Jorge Posada and he made a

perfect toss to Sabathia covering the plate. He tagged Nelson

Cruz’s left elbow just before his foot reached the plate for the

final out of the inning.

”That’s the difference in the game, maybe,” Girardi said.

”It’s a 6-6 game and maybe we’re still playing.”

Sabathia trudged back to the dugout having thrown 36 pitches

that inning – only 16 strikes. Girardi was astounded that Sabathia

threw 20 balls, calling it ”usually about six innings of work for

him.”

”I have to throw more strikes,” Sabathia said. ”When you’re

up, down, all over the place, you don’t get calls. I was trying to

battle and get them to put the ball in play. But I can’t walk

people.”

The Rangers got to him again in the fourth, with Michael Young

driving in two runs with a two-out double. Sabathia struck out

Hamilton looking to end the threat, then the big lefty went to the

Yankees dugout and didn’t return.

Sabathia’s line was five runs and six hits, with four walks and

three strikeouts. He also had a balk and a wild pitch. That doesn’t

include the really wild one; it went down as merely a ball because

it led to an out.

The bullpen was as good as Sabathia was bad. Relievers Joba

Chamberlain, Dustin Moseley, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera allowed

just one hit and two walks in five innings.

”You had an uncharacteristic start for him, but that happens,”

said Brett Gardner, whose infield single triggered a five-run

eighth inning for the Yankees. ”We’ve got guys in the bullpen who

can come in and shut the door.”

Still, Sabathia’s numbers were a surprise. He was so good last

postseason, especially the ALCS, allowing only two runs over 16

innings and named MVP.

Now the Yankees must hope Sabathia is not headed toward a repeat

of his 2007 ALCS. Pitching for Cleveland, he was crushed in Games 1

and 5.

One bit of relief for New York was that Sabathia didn’t get hurt

on the play at the plate.

Then again, Girardi said, ”If there is a collision at home

plate, CC is going to win most of them.”