Sabathia beats up on Baltimore again

BALTIMORE -- CC Sabathia won't have the Baltimore Orioles to kick around again until Labor Day weekend.

The same pretty much goes for his Yankees teammates, who get one more crack at their favorite punching bags Thursday night and then have to wait until Sept. 6 for a chance to smack them around again.

Right now, it's tough to tell who is going to miss the Orioles more. In the jungle of the AL East -- a division in which four excellent teams are battling for, at the most, two playoff spots -- the Orioles are the gift that keeps on giving, a shady oasis in the middle of a searing desert.

Sabathia -- who with the exception of one terrific outing in April has been neither very good nor very bad this year -- has gotten fat off the Orioles, having beaten them for four of the six wins he has so far this season. His career mark against them is an almost sadistic 13-1.

And the Yankees have done even better. By winning their 10th straight game over Baltimore, they now have racked up more than 25 percent of their total wins for the season against the same inept ballclub. And Wednesday's 4-2 victory was a lot more indicative of the talent gap between the two teams than even Tuesday's 12-7 Yankees win was.

This was the classic "good teams win this one, bad teams lose it," sort of game, a close, reasonably well-pitched contest decided ultimately by plays in the field. Two great ones by the Yankees and three miserable ones by the Orioles.

There were two timely hits, Robinson Cano's RBI single that tied the game in the sixth and Francisco Cervelli's RBI single that provided an insurance run in the eighth.

There was a sacrifice fly by Curtis Granderson that put them on the board in the fourth and a double-play grounder by Jorge Posada that the Baltimore infield botched, but it didn't matter because Alex Rodriguez, on third with none out in the sixth, was going to score the go-ahead run anyway.

And that was about it, but it was more than enough for the Yankees and way too much for the Orioles.

"They're a major league ballclub and they play hard," Joe Girardi said, mouthing the typical managerial yada-yada-yada. "The important thing is you play solid baseball and win series. That's what we try to do."

The truth is, the Orioles stink. On Tuesday night, they were able to score seven runs but couldn't limit the Yankees to six. On Wednesday, they held the Yankees to four -- two of them unearned, thanks to three errors -- but couldn't manage to score five.

They are always just good enough to lose.

And so far, Sabathia has always been good enough to win. That is, on the nights he faces the Orioles.

He started the season well, and in his second outing took a no-hitter against the mighty Tampa Bay Rays into the eighth inning. He followed that up with a good start against the Texas Rangers on April 16.

But since then, the only team he has been able to beat are the Birds.

Girardi tried his best to paint that as an accomplishment -- you know, "it's tough to beat a major-league team back-to-back," and all that -- and in fact, Sabathia has now beaten the Birds twice in the space of six days.

This, Girardi told us, was a testament to Sabathia's powers of adjustment. But to Yankees fans, the real adjustment Sabathia must make is against the rest of the league.

"Hey, what is it -- June the what, the sixth?" Sabathia said. "You can't expect me to go out and put together 10 starts like I had the last two or three years or whatever. But I can go out and try to keep the team in the game and help us win."

Modest goals for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher who so far has not pitched nearly as well as Phil Hughes, a virtual rookie as a starting pitcher, or ancient Andy Pettitte, who at 7-1 is off to the best start of his career and doesn't seem to need to make adjustments against anyone. Even Javier Vazquez, practically booed out of the Bronx in April, has pitched better than Sabathia over the past month.

Like CC's problem with the date -- Wednesday was, of course, June 9 -- Girardi says his erstwhile ace's pitches "have just been a little bit off."

"I looked up at one point and he had 15 balls and 15 strikes, and I don't think I've ever seen that from CC before," Girardi said. "But once he got through that fourth inning his stuff seemed to get better. He was locating his fastball more effectively and his breaking ball got sharper."

Sabathia's best moment, however, came in the seventh, helped immensely by Cano's brilliant play to keep Nick Markakis' grounder from penetrating the infield, saving the tying run from scoring. After walking Ty Wigginton, Sabathia helped himself by fanning Luke Scott, a three-time victim, on a gorgeous slider that had Scott lunging at air.

"The breaking ball was definitely a big pitch for me tonight," said Sabathia (6-3, 4.01 ERA).

The Yankees got their second key defensive play in the eighth when Kevin Russo -- an infielder by trade pressed into outfield duty by injuries (this time to Brett Gardner) -- made a spectacular diving catch to rob Adam Jones of a sure double leading off the eighth against Joba Chamberlain.

"That play changed the game for us," said Girardi, since the next batter, Matt Wieters, doubled into the right-center gap. But typically, the Orioles couldn't capitalize; pinch hitters Corey Patterson and Scott Moore struck out and grounded out to end the inning.

Things get no better for the Orioles on Thursday, when they send out RHP Jake Arrieta to make his first major league start against A.J. Burnett (6-3, 3.72 ERA).

"That's the sign of a good team, when you're able to fight through it and find a way to win when you don't have your 'A' stuff," Girardi said, referring to wins by a subpar Hughes on Tuesday and Sabathia on Wednesday.

It's also the sign of a bad team that the Orioles weren't able to find a way on either of those days. Too bad that after Thursday night, they disappear from the schedule until the kids go back to school.

CC Sabathia, for one, is sure going to miss them.

GAME NOTES: Gardner, whose sore left thumb was X-rayed before the game, came in as a pinch-runner for Posada in the eighth, stole second and scored on Cervelli's single. Girardi did not send Gardner out to the field, using him as the DH instead, and sent Marcus Thames up to bat for him in the ninth. "I was told there would be some issue with his defense, not so much catching and running as throwing, so I got him out of there," Girardi said. Even though Gardner's X-rays came back negative, he said he would probably undergo an MRI when the team returns to New York on Friday. … After slogging through a mini-slump (0-for-12) following the end of his 17-game hitting streak, Cano has now gotten nine hits in his past 12 at-bats. His average is a major league-leading .376. … Mark Teixeira followed his three-hit night Tuesday with two more Wednesday, although he had to wait until after the game for one of them; the scoring on his sixth-inning grounder, booted by Julio Lugo, was changed from an error to a hit. He also doubled in the seventh.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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