Head of the Class

August 3, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – Granting that the Seattle Mariners will not be found on any encyclopedia page discussing a “juggernaut,” you still had to be impressed with the statement game CC Sabathia threw in a 6-3 victory in the Bronx Friday night. Perhaps the best way to put into perspective the walk and home run in the ninth inning that made the score seem competitive is to reveal that the hefty southpaw hadn’t once to that point gone to a three-ball count, that the long ball was just the third hit, and that he had faced just two over the minimum 24 batters through eight innings.

Although CC dispatched the visitors on a pop-up and two strike outs in the first (four balls and nine strikes evenly divided – three taking, three struck, three swings and misses), Seattle hurler Kevin Millwood was looking capable of turning in a performance, if not quite like the one in which he dazzled the Yankee offense in a Mariners victory in New York back in May, at least where he would allow baserunners, but not runs.

In the first, the veteran righthander got two quick outs despite Joe Girardi’s surprising lineup alteration, moving the struggling Curtis Granderson into the leadoff spot in front of Derek Jeter for the first time this year. Robinson Cano doubled to the wall the other way, but Millwood bested Mark Teixeira, back at first to the relief of many fans, in an eight-pitch strike out. Nick Swisher singled in the second, but a double-play grounder got Millwood out of trouble, just as it would one frame later.

However, the Yanks did dent the scoreboard in the third, scoring two runs on an Ichiro infield single, Russell Martin double down the left-field line, and Granderson one-base hit (kudos manager Joe!) to right center. Jeter followed with a hard sinking liner to right on which Eric Thames made a nice grab, and Cano bounced into the second 4-6-3 in two innings. Millwood pitched around a walk and single in the fourth, and Jeter’s hustle double off his bare hand in the fifth, leaving him with seven punishing hits, but just two runs against through five.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was in charge, retriring every batter he faced until Casper Wells drilled a long home run to left in the fourth. By this time CC had struck out four, and he would whiff six more among the next eight batters. But there he was, dazzling the opposition, but just one potential bad pitch from a tie game. The post-homer streak was amazing. He used two swinging strikes to get two K’s to close the fourth, then six and four swings and misses, respectively, to record four more punch outs across the fifth and sixth frames.

Then the game changed in the sixth, with a Teixeira and two fielder’s choices finding Eric Chavez at the plate with one on. He homered to right, just a row out of Thames’s reach. Of course, this was the Yankees, so the sudden long ball came as no surprise. But the home team pulled out some small ball in the seventh, once Carter Capps relieved, as Jeter followed Martin’s second hit and a walk with a perfect, and unexpected, sac bunt to the box. Down 4-1, the Mariners had no choice, and they brought ex-Met lefty Oliver Perez into the game and moved their infielders in with Cano coming up. With the outfielders respecting the Yankee second sacker’s power and lingering near the wall, the two Mariners defensive corps were far enough apart that someone new to the sport could have thought they were playing a different game, with the infield way in, and the outfield way out. Robbie lined a two-run single past second, and the Yanks had their six runs.

By this time Sabathia had switched gears. CC had intoduced his killing slider into his game early this time, using it to get his first strike out in the first, then mixing it with mid-nineties fastballs to keep the visitors at bay through six. But once he got the 10th strike out on the M’s 22nd swing and miss to end that inning, he changed it up, and retired eight of the final nine on ground balls, resorting to a lot of two-seam fastballs. Veteran catcher Miguel Olivo doubled in the eighth, and the walk and home run to start the ninth brough Girardi to the mound with a save situation set up and Rafael Soriano warmed in the pen. Fans booed the impending pitcher switch, and cheered what they expected would be a proud Sabathia march to the dugout, but Joe left him in.

Once Swisher made a nice running catch on a Wells short fly to right, just the third fly-ball out, CC finished the M’s with two more ground balls. Sabathia posted a 72/31 strikes/balls ratio in his complete game effort, and that 22 of the first 49 strikes he posted were of the swinging variety was amazing. He threw 20 first-pitch strikes to 31 batters, and allowed just three hits and four baserunners.

This August 3 would have been the 112th birthday of John T. Scopes, the teacher eventually found guilty in the Scopes Monkey trial for, pshaw!, teaching evolution. In honor of the educational aspect of that history,

CC gets an AA