Back in the day, before the time of knowledge, it would have made for a classic column from a fedora-wearing sportswriter turning baseball into a symbolic struggle of character: CC Sabathia swipes away his Red Sox demons, guts his way through six innings and wins a big game to draw the Yankees closer to the Red Sox in a fierce battle for the AL East title.
Sometimes the old days may have been better.
Because, while Sabathia had indeed struggled against the Red Sox this season, going 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in four previous starts, we now just write that off to small sample size and the randomness of baseball. Or with a couple clicks of the mouse, we can discover that he was 1-0 with a 3.96 ERA against the Red Sox in 2010 and 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 2009, suggesting that it seems quite improbable that a pitcher of Sabathia’s stature would suddenly get infected with the jitters when pitching against his big rival.
Not to mention that in the era of the wild card, the fierce battle for the AL East is more like a little joust for home-field advantage.
For the moment, however, I’m going to slip on a fedora and sit in front of my old Olympia typewriter and fashion an old-school angle out of the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday night.
You see, the fact is that Sabathia had struggled against the Red Sox this year. That 0-4 record was real. He was 17-4 against the rest of baseball. He’d held opponents to a .260 batting average, but Red Sox hitters were batting .324 off him. He’d only walked 36 batters all season, but 10 of those were Red Sox batters. I’d say the mighty CC had a little something to prove; a test of his mental toughness, so to speak.
Truth is, he wasn’t very pretty on this perfect Fenway night. He struggled a bit with the somewhat random strike zone of home-plate ump Ed Rapuano, running up his pitch count -- a season-high 128 pitches -- and allowing 10 hits in his six innings. But the good pitchers know how to get the outs when they need them, and Sabathia got them on this night. In the second, he got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to second with the bases loaded. In the fourth, with runners at second and third, he struck out Adrian Gonzalez on a nasty slider. In the sixth with a runner on, he fell behind Gonzalez 3-1, but got him to ground out to shortstop.
Clutch outs. Demons exorcised. Yankees fans, breathe a bit easier. Your ace can still shoulder the burden of facing the Red Sox without succumbing to the pressure of the rivalry.
Of course, he’d need help on this night. Cory Wade replaced Sabathia in the seventh and allowed two hits. Boone Logan came one with one out to face Carl Crawford, who lined on 0-1 fastball into the left-center gap, a hit that should have easily scored David Ortiz, but Big Papi got a terrible read and stopped at third. Logan struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and then got Darnell McDonald swinging on a 95-mph heater on the outside corner. That gave Boston 13 runners left on through just the first seven innings.
Now there was another side to this game. John Lackey entered with a 5.98 ERA. He went seven innings, allowed seven hits and five runs, walked four.
What can we take away from his performance? Just another outing that has Red Sox fans sweating about Lackey being in the postseason rotation? Or maybe a positive sign that Terry Francona left him in there for seven innings, when he could have pulled him earlier.
I guess it all depends on what kind of story you want to tell.
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