CC can't get motor running in Motown

DETROIT -- On paper, this was supposed to be a mismatch.

After all, the New York Yankees had their ace, CC Sabathia, facing the slumping Detroit Tigers, who had lost seven in a row.

But then you realized this is Motown, the place Sabathia can't seem to win anymore. It's so strange for a pitcher on track for a Hall of Fame career to struggle against a team that has been mostly bad for a long time and is still looking for its first division title since 1987.

Still, it wasn't always like that. In fact, Sabathia was 6-0 in his first eight starts at Comerica Park. But that seems like ancient history given the recent results.

As odd as it is to say, the Tigers -- no matter how well or poorly they are playing -- own the Big Fella. The Tigers' 4-2 victory on Tuesday night is proof positive.

Sabathia has now lost his last four starts here and five of the last six. "I don't know if it's anything with the park," said Sabathia, who is now 1-5 with a 5.54 ERA in those six starts dating back to 2006. "It's just one of those things.

"Tonight, I just didn't have good command of anything. It was just one of those nights."

Coming in, Sabathia, who has pitched here often from his days in the American League Central with the Cleveland Indians, wasn't even aware that this place had produced no fruits for his labor the past few years. "I hadn't even realized that," he said. "I've pitched here a lot and it's just one of those things."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi blamed Sabathia's woes on pitching matchups in the past. Often, he seemed to get pitted against the Tigers' ace, Justin Verlander. Hence, there was little room for error.

In this case, Sabathia simply went to the mound without his good stuff. Although he felt just fine in the bullpen, he was without his changeup and his cutter wouldn't go down and in like normal. "I didn't have good command," he said. "I just tried to battle. You're surprised, but you just have to get through it, make pitches. You can't stop calling changeups, can't stop calling my cutter."

Tuesday night presented a great opportunity for the Yankees to build their win total after winning Game 1 of this four-game series, in which they were able to get to Verlander early and win late, 5-3.

So with Sabathia on the mound and the Tigers almost at wit's end with all the losing, mostly because their bats had gone quiet, it appeared as though the Yankees were in position to get the first two games of the series.

But Sabathia was in trouble from the word go, which went for a leadoff double to left field by center fielder Austin Jackson. "Austin put a good swing on the first pitch," Sabathia said. "That's what you get when you don't make good pitches."

Said Girardi, "I didn't think he could throw it where he wanted to tonight. And I think that was the difference, the reason he gave up the four runs."

Sabathia's teammates didn't help, either. They let Tigers starter and winner Brad Penny off the hook early. Plus, they made some bad plays on the basepaths, including Andruw Jones getting gunned down at the plate on a shallow fly ball to right field in the fourth inning. "We had our opportunities," Girardi said. "It seemed like we had base runners on in four of the first five innings and runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings, but wasn't able to get the hit."

It's been a strange start to this season for Sabathia, who entered the game with a stingy 2.25 ERA. But he was just 2-1 in his first six starts. Easily, he could have been 3-1. The bullpen blew a game against the Twins he left with a 4-0 lead.

Still, it's surprising that the Yankees have been able to maintain their first-place standing in the AL East, especially when you think Sabathia is just a .500 pitcher at 2-2 with a 2.68 ERA and their second-best starter Phil Hughes is winless and on the disabled list.

"They're a good team, they have a good lineup," Sabathia said of the Tigers (13-17). "They have veteran hitters and you need to make pitches to get them out."

On just about any night, you'd take Sabathia against anybody, anywhere.

In Detroit? After Tuesday night, in what looked like a layup, nope. So strange.