Three Times a Fighter

Bronx, N.Y., October 20, 2010 — The Yanks survived with a 7-2 win in ALCS Game 5 Wednesday, so I guess it follows that CC Sabathia was his automatic self and just mowed the visitors down. Well, not exactly.

It’s a simple game. One pitcher has to face nine batters. Wednesday CC did exactly that, three times. He retired 18 of the 27 batters through six innings and handed a lead to his bullpen. But the Rangers reached Sabathia for two hits in the first, and 11 hits in the six frames.

The home team took advantage of two walks and Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson rbi singles to get their ace an early 3-0 lead in the second. In the third, Nick Swisher and Robbie Cano homered to left and right, respectively, on consecutive pitches, and CC took it from there. His 74/38 strikes/balls ratio was very good, and despite going to three-ball counts eight different times, the powerful southpaw did not walk a batter. He got the Rangers to swing and miss 13 times, resulting in his seven strike outs, five of them swinging.

The two first-inning hits bespoke a Texas offense that was ready to battle, and it never got easier. The first time through the order Sabathia got them out on 30 pitches, allowed three hits and no runs, and struck out three. The second time through it got tougher, as the visitors stroked four hits and scored a run while striking out just once to 35 CC pitches. To this point, Sabathia was a two-pitch thrower, surviving on 94-mph heat and a darting slider.

It was kitchen sink and whatever he could find the third time through, finally getting a couple of changeups to break over the plate to keep the visitors off stride. The Rangers spanked another four hits, and forced CC to throw 47 pitches, draining the Yankee lefty by forcing 33 throws in the sixth inning alone. All three times Sabathia faced the full lineup he threw five first-pitch strikes, and missed the zone four times. But although he got 18 outs by throwing just 16 deciding pitches thanks to two double play grounders, Sabathia got out of this mess the way he survived all day. He struck them out. He got Vlad Guerrero swinging to start the sixth, then following three singles and a run-scoring grounder, his eighth pitch to Mitch Moreland buckled the first baseman’s knees as a curve broke over the plate: strike out No. 7.

Kerry Wood came on for the eighth and allowed an infield single to speedy Elvis Andrus, then wild pitched him to second before striking out Michael Young. But Andrus was but one of 50,000 people Wood surprised when he wheeled and picked him off second. Kerry notched two more Ks in the seventh and eighth, and the Rangers were done. Mariano Rivera thrilled a crowd starved for thrills by finishing it out in a one-hit, 24-pitch ninth.

Curtis Granderson led the way on offense with three hits including an eighth-inning home run, one run scored, and two rbi’s, but I give the game ball to an unfairly put upon Jorge Posada. It would be easy to dismiss his rbi single that got it all started in the second as a ground ball through the shortstop hole, but if you’ve been watching for the last three days, it was exactly the kind of hit that’s been missing. And Jorge ran well on the following Granderson single that the Texas “D” mishandled, earning the Yankees their third run. Jorge doubled hard into the left field corner the next time up too. But it was a team win too. Six Yankees scored runs; six drove at least one run home.

Wednesday would have been late Yankee emcee Bob Sheppard’s 100th birthday, and in a year where one after another long-time Yankee personality passed away, it was much appreciated that the ballpark honored that. And the team took no chances with the ceremonial first pitch mojo, having postseason home run heroes Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone throw out the first pitch[es]. This would have been the beloved Mickey Mantle’s 79th birthday too, and the team on the field did him proud.

So now the Yanks head to Texas for two more not having won the three straight many envisioned they would gather in the Bronx. But they did something even last year’s Championsip squad never managed to do.

They won a win-or-go-home game.