Sabathia out to match Mariners' aces

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees once wooed CC Sabathia the way his buddy LeBron James is being recruited now.

At the December 2008 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Yankees manager Joe Girardi played it straight. In a private setting, Girardi just sold Sabathia on his experiences as a winning Yankee, using all his earnestness to explain what life in the Bronx can mean, what the glory of New York can feel like.

"I just told him how great it was," Girardi recalled.

The Yankees were armed with something that the Knicks and Girardi's counterpart, Mike D'Antoni, will not be -- bags and bags of extra money that no one else had. They blew away the competition with a $160 million-plus contract.

While the Knicks make their pitch to James in Akron, Ohio, Sabathia will be on the mound in the Bronx, with another chance to show what a big money man is supposed to do.

Baseball is not a one-on-one sport, but Sabathia will be asked to match Seattle Mariners aces Cliff Lee and baseball's King, Felix Hernandez.

During Wednesday's 7-0 washout of the Yankees, Hernandez outdid Lee, allowing just two hits and striking out 11 in becoming the sixth starter to throw a shutout in the Bronx since 1960 with two hits or fewer and 10 or more strikeouts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Bartolo Colon was the last to do it, a decade ago.

"That's as good as we've seen all year," Girardi said of King Felix.

It has also been a decade since the Yankees have had back-to-back complete games thrown against them. Toronto's Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar did it in April 2000. At home, it hasn't happened since 1991 when the Angels' Mark Langston and Jim Abbott did it.

On Thursday afternoon, the Yankees will try to avoid a Seattle sweep by leaving it up to their ace, Sabathia, to clean up the mess. It is especially important with the imploding A.J. Burnett set to throw against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. The Yankees are still in first, but they have lost three of four overall and five of their past seven in the Bronx.

On Wednesday, Vazquez was no match for King Felix. Vazquez did escape with what could be termed a quality start, going six innings and allowing three runs on six hits. He gave up a second-inning homer to Milton Bradley on an 0-2 changeup and a third-inning long ball to Michael Saunders on a 2-1 cutter that didn't cut.

"I made two mistakes," Vazquez said.

After Vazquez left following the sixth, the Mariners snacked on Damaso Marte and Chad Gaudin. The game got ugly and Hernandez fired pitches that Yankees hitters swung at as if they were invisible.

Sabathia can do all this, too. Sabathia has been waiting for Thursday for a long time. Not because he wants to pitch so badly, but because he wants the LeBron saga to end. Sabathia is tired of being asked about where his friend will play, and Sabathia is as curious as the biggest Knicks fan as to where James will actually land.

On Thursday, Sabathia goes against Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-7, 6.18 ERA), a mismatch, if there ever was one.

While the whole sports world fixates on his buddy in Akron, Sabathia will try to stop the Yankees' mini-plunge. The ace Girardi recruited in Vegas has an opportunity to match Seattle's pair.

GAME NOTES: Mark Teixeira extended his hitting streak to 11 games. He is hitting .273 over that span. ... Derek Jeter has gone 14 consecutive games without an RBI, marking the longest stretch of his career, according to Elias. ... Marcus Thames began his rehab in Scranton, going 1-4 as a DH.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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