CC rolls to lead Yanks to seventh straight
Lefty strikes out seven; bats score seven in seventh inning
NEW YORK -- Nobody has had a better view of CC Sabathia's past three starts than Francisco Cervelli. He's been behind the plate for all of them, calling the pitches, handling a constant stream of mid-90s fastballs and disappearing sliders. So if there is anyone on the Yankees who could articulate just how well Sabathia has pitched recently, it would seem Cervelli would be the best candidate.
Yet, after Sabathia put together another outstanding performance in the Yankees' 9-1 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night, Cervelli had nothing but a blank look on his face. The man who has worked closest with Sabathia during this stretch was simply speechless.
"I've got no words," Cervelli said. "He's been outstanding. What's there to say?"
Lately, not much. Except that Sabathia, who won his first game at Yankee Stadium since joining the team, is reminding everybody just why the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $161 million free-agent contract this winter. In his past three starts, Sabathia has a 1.12 ERA in 24 innings and has been the ace New York expected.
Sabathia won for the third straight time Tuesday, allowing one run on just three hits in seven innings, striking out seven. After allowing singles to the first two batters of the game, he retired 21 of 23 hitters and made a first-inning two-run home run by Alex Rodriguez stand up. It remained a one-run game through Sabathia's entire outing, before the Yankees erupted for a seven-run seventh inning to blow it open.
For seven innings, New York needed Sabathia to live up to his reputation, and that's exactly what he did.
"He's looked like that his last three or four outings," Derek Jeter said. "Baltimore can hit. They've got a great offensive team, and he was pretty dominant."
The Orioles (16-23) started the scoring, picking up a run in the first inning on an RBI groundout by Aubrey Huff. But Rodriguez quickly erased it in the bottom half of the frame, blasting his homer off Baltimore starter Brad Bergesen into the left-field bleachers and continuing his outstanding play.
Rodriguez has now homered in four consecutive games, including a walk-off shot in Saturday's contest against the Twins. At times, he has carried the offense and is showing few ill-effects from hip surgery during Spring Training.
That home run was all the run support Sabathia (4-3) needed. The Orioles had just one more hit the rest of the game -- a fifth-inning single by Nolan Reimold. At one point, Sabathia retired 12 straight and remained strong despite throwing 105 pitches. He struck out the final two batters he faced, and manager Joe Girardi said he planned to send Sabathia back out to the mound for the eighth if not for the Yankees' offensive outburst virtually sealing the win.
"He's able to continually keep the ball down in the zone and make his pitches," Girardi said. "I talk about CC being such a strong guy. I mean he's physically a strong man. He doesn't seem to get tired around 90-100 pitches. He's the type of guy that can continue and stay strong and make his pitches, and that's what's so impressive to me."
It turned out the Yankees (22-17) wouldn't need any more of Sabathia's services. For six innings, Bergesen (1-2) matched Sabathia pitch-for-pitch, setting down the next 13 Yankees after the Rodriguez home run. He exited after 6 1/3 innings with runners on first and second in a 2-1 game, leaving it for reliever Chris Ray.
After allowing a single to Melky Cabrera, it appeared Ray had a chance to escape with minimal damage. Cervelli hit a slow ground ball toward shortstop, which would have at least recorded the second out, but Robert Andino booted it. The miscue scored Nick Swisher from third and left the bases loaded.
That's when the wheels fell off for the Orioles. Jeter lined a double into the right-center-field gap that cleared the bases after Adam Jones made an errant throw that allowed Cervelli to scoot home. First baseman Mark Teixeira put the exclamation mark on the victory, launching a two-run homer deep into the second deck in right, his fourth in four games.
During the inning, Girardi decided to take Sabathia out. Brian Bruney, who came off the disabled list before the game, and Brett Tomko each pitched 1-2-3 innings to close it out.
"You just keep this team close, you keep the game close, you feel like you can have an inning like that pretty much at anytime during the game," Sabathia said.
Sabathia has been doing more than just keeping the Yankees close lately. He's been the anchor of a rotation that seems to be settling into a rhythm.
No matter when this current winning streak ends, the Yankees are growing confident that no losing streak can go too long. All they have to do is look toward Sabathia's next start.
Said Rodriguez: "CC is a horse and, boy, I'm glad he's on our team."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.