Mind Set on Wou

Bronx, N.Y., October 12, 2012 – What can you say after watching your team score in four of 25 innings over two days, and on the third day a guy whom you refuse to believe is the second coming of, well, name your all-time righty ace, has retired 12 of 12 through four? If you’re not feeling the panic that is gripping my fingers even now as I type this afterward, given the scene as set, you may not be a baseball fan, or, well, never mind.

Granted, the Yanks had their horse on the mound, the ace, big and strong CC Sabathia. To call him Mongo (in honor of the much bereaved Alex Karras) overstates the case. But the veteran lefty is a gentle giant and a nice-looking man; he’s big, he’s bad, and he can beat you.

But complete-game wins are rare, shutouts even more so. And the O’s had singled and walked off Sabathia leading off the top of the fourth and fifth frames, respectively. The stress mounted following Nate McLouth’s steal of second with two down in the fourth. If a run was coming, the “lost” (missing, absent?) offense would need to reply.

Or score first? What a concept. But score the Yankees did, once Mark Teixeira reached with a single over the shift to right leading off the home fifth. Not shocking, to be sure, but include the Orioles players on the field with the 47,000-plus in the stands who were when Tex broke for second as Raul Ibanez was talking a 1-0 pitch for a strike. Once the Yankee dh poked the eight pitch he saw past second base into short right, and Tex rumbled to the plate, the home team had a 1-0 lead. A third single, this one off the bat of Curtis Granderson, would go for naught, because Nick Swisher had grounded into a 6-4-3 beforehand, but if anyone in the stands did not take note of the Granderson hit, following a line shot to right in the third, they weren’t watching the same game I was.

No fool, CC knows what a lead is; he retired six straight through the top of the seventh on 25 tosses, mixing it all in: sliders, curves, two- and four-seam fastballs and, in particular, a devastating change. He posted his fifth and sixth strike outs. The Yankees know a lead too; they liked it, and added. Derek Jeter drew a one-out walk and, Ichiro Suzuki, finding a little of his late September spark, doubled to the wall in right center to score him. Lefty Troy Patton relieved and whiffed Ibanez in the sixth and Swisher in the seventh, but the rejuvenating Granderson lurked. Once he blasted a 2-1 pitch high and deep to right, the Yanks had a 3-0 lead.

But we know the game. It cannot be that easy, and it isn’t. The Orioles, who had argued that a McLouth long drive past the foul pole in right in the sixth had deflected off it – I sit right on the line; it didn’t, and because he has the same angle, Buck Showalter knows that too, I assure you – were all over CC to start the eighth. Baltimore singles around a walk and strike out scored one, and when both Sabathia and third baseman Eric Chavez broke for a Robert Andino bouncer, leaving the Yankee starter nowhere to throw to, the Orioles had the bases loaded, one out, and two down. Game on the line, the cream rose to the top. CC struck out McLouth, Baltimore’s leading hitter in the series, and Jeter pegged JJ Hardy out on a tricky slow roller toward short.

Showing what I considered to be expertise similar to what I showed with calling the earlier Granderson home run, I assured the section CC was done, so he of course came out to finish the game despite the fact that the 29-pitch eighth brought his pitch count to 111. But although Joe Girardi, who will undoubtedly take more questions about leaving Alex Rodriguez out of this lineup than sticking with the Yankee horse to win it, was right and I was wrong.

Not only has October 12 formerly been the date of many Yankee highlights, they actually beat the Orioles in the ALCS 8-4 on this day in 1996, with Darryl Strawberry collecting two of the four Yankee home runs. Twenty years earlier, Chris Chambiss gave a preview of what would be the ALCS clincher when he homered in a 5-3 victory over the Royals on October 12, 1976. And October 12 has been a good for Yankee managers too, as it’s the day they signed Joe McCarthy to a three-year deal in 1932; they hired Casey Stengel to lead the team in 1948; and Ralph Houk received a two-year extension on this day in 1961.

And it’s worthwhile looking back this day, because Sabathia not only won the key game of the Yankee season, he finished it, a throwback start. Pounding 20 strikes among 32 first pitches, CC allowed just one run, four hits, and two walks while striking out nine. He delivered 78 strikes among 121 throws. He is a great pitcher, He is a strong guy. But a huge, toned physique notwithstanding, his greatest asset is his tenacity.

The late great George Harrison of the Beatles had a big hit when he released a song about tenacity on this day in 1987. While a fine lyric, the only shortcoming in his I Have My Mind Set on You as to how it applies here is that it doesn’t mention “W,” the win. That’s why I have changed the title to

I Have My Mind Set on Wou