NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia may not be having an ace-like season so far, but he certainly gave an ace-worthy performance Tuesday night, throwing a complete game, allowing seven hits and just three runs -- and, of course, losing.
In what is becoming a nightly theme, a New York Yankees starter goes out and throws a good game, only to have one of two things happen: Either the bullpen blows it for him, or the Yankees' offense does. It is turning into a bad joke: A Yankee walks up to home plate
You may complete that sentence any way you like. These days it always seems to end in a groan.
Sabathia wasn't great -- he allowed solo home runs to David Lough in the sixth and Billy Butler in the seventh and an RBI double to Eric Hosmer in the eighth -- but he was a lot better than his supporting cast, which managed just six singles all game, one of them a bunt, and only one after the second inning. The game was as good as lost in the first inning, when the Yankees got four singles off James Shields but managed to score only one run, because Travis Hafner (.217) struck out with runners on first and second, Lyle Overbay struck out with the bases loaded, and Royals CF Lorenzo Cain ran down the hardest-hit ball by a Yankee all night, Eduardo Nunez's liner to deep center.
Still, Sabathia (9-7) took the responsibility for the 3-1 loss to the Royals and placed it on his own sloping shoulders.
"I feel like I've been letting these guys down," he said. "We've been struggling to swing the bats and we scored early against Shields. You don't want to give up the lead."
Sabathia was beating himself up for not being able to hold a one-run lead for nine innings, a tacit admission that Yankees starters now know they must throw a shutout just to be assured of a tie. It puts a lot of pressure on a staff that has somehow kept the Yankees in the race despite the fact they have scored fewer runs than 21 other MLB teams, including the Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twins and the New York Mets.
When asked if he still believed the injury-decimated Yankees could win with the kinds of lineups they are sending out on a nightly basis, Sabathia said, "Yeah, why not? You can't talk enough about the way guys have stepped up and the jobs that guys have done. We've had a lot of guys go down, a lot of big injuries. For us to be where we are during the season, you've got to feel good about that and be excited when we do get guys back."
But there is no guarantee that even when "the guys" -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson -- get back, they will perform anywhere near the level they have in the past, or even appreciably better than their replacements have. In fact, it was only a month or so ago that a lot of snarky columns were being written saying that when "the guys" did get back, they might not find their jobs waiting for them, so well were the Hafners and Overbays and Vernon Wellses playing in their absence.
But no one has said that for a long time now. Since their high-water mark of 30-18 on May 25, the Yankees have gone 18-24, and their recent six-game winning streak, which ended on Sunday, seems like a long time ago.
"I feel like these guys can get it done," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, in defiance of all known logic. "I'll always believe in them. That's the bottom line. That's who I am. I believe that we can get it done. We're going to have to score some more runs, there's no question about that, but I believe we can do that."
But when the Yankees lose the kinds of games they have over the past three days -- blowing one in the ninth-inning when Mariano Rivera failed to protect a one-run lead, and losing another Tuesday night when Sabathia, despite pitching quite well, was unable to do the same -- believing in the ability of the current Yankees to remain in contention very long starts to feel like believing in Santa Claus.
"It's frustrating; a loss is a loss," Sabathia said. "It doesn't matter how many innings you throw or how many runs you give up, if you lose the game, you lose the game. That's all that really matters."
If only that were true. The Yankees lost another game they should have won on Tuesday night, despite the kind of game from CC Sabathia that they would sign up for most any day of the week, in any season.
Except for this one.