NEW YORK -- In the top of the fifth inning of the Yankees-Orioles game Thursday afternoon, the Bronx Bombers' promising 2010 season almost imploded just a third of the way in.
With two out and no runners on base, Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia extended his left arm -- his pitching arm -- and knocked down an Adam Jones line drive with his left hand. He then picked up the ball and tossed it to first base.
The throw was high, pulling first baseman Mark Teixeira off the bag and allowing Jones to reach base safely. But the Yankees couldn't care less about that. Manager Joe Girardi and assistant trainer Steve Donohue quickly emerged from the dugout to check on Sabathia, and the 44,927 fans in the building held their collective breath.
"He does it all the time," outfielder Brett Gardner said. "It's definitely scary, with how important that left hand is."
Luckily for the Yankees, Sabathia was OK -- after throwing one warm-up pitch, he was allowed to stay in the game. He ended up getting seven more outs before handing the ball to his bullpen, and the Yankees went on to beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-3, sweeping a three-game series.
"[The hand] actually went numb when I threw the ball to Tex, but after that I felt good," Sabathia said.
"It's a good thing he's got those big mitts out there," Girardi said, referring to Sabathia's large hands.
There has been plenty of scrutiny of the Yankees' starting rotation thus far this season, as usual.
Much of the focus has been on the outstanding early-season performances by the cunning veteran, Andy Pettitte, and the blossoming youngster, Phil Hughes, -- both 7-1 -- as well as the maddening inconsistency of Javier Vazquez, reacquired from the Atlanta Braves in the offseason.
Much less attention, ironically, has been paid to the Yankees' ace. But Sabathia's numbers so far have been mediocre at best by his standards, as he entered Thursday's start with a 4-3 record and a 4.16 ERA.
Sabathia was also winless in his past five outings, going 0-2 with a 6.28 ERA in that span. He was trying to avoid going six straight starts without a win for the first time since 2003.
"It's been a long time," Sabathia said. "So to be able to get a win and to get a sweep is pretty good."
Sabathia dominated the inept Orioles, the worst team in baseball at 15-39, for most of the afternoon. He did surrender two home runs -- a solo shot to Jones in the third inning and a two-run blast to Luke Scott in the seventh. But the only other hit he allowed was a single by Ty Wigginton, also in the seventh frame.
Before the game, Girardi said Sabathia had been struggling with his mechanics, particularly his sinker and his changeup. After the game, the manager sounded pleased.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Girardi said. "The changeup was better; the sinker was better. I liked what I saw."
Is there real cause for concern with Sabathia? No. He's been remarkably consistent in his career, with 17-plus wins in each of the past four seasons and double-digit wins in all nine years of his career.
But when Pettitte and Hughes fall back to Earth a tad, as they inevitably will, the Yankees will need some better performances from their big man. Especially when they face teams more competitive than the Orioles.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland thinks Sabathia is on the verge of breaking out in a big way.
"He's very close to going on a tear," Eiland said. "A little bit better command of his breaking ball, and he'll be there."
As long as he stops putting that left hand in harm's way.