CC conquers Coliseum, lifts Yankees
Backed by five-run sixth, lefty stifles A's near hometown
OAKLAND -- CC Sabathia has waited for years to compile his own highlight-reel performance under the lights at the Oakland Coliseum, the kind of shows he used to cheer on as a paying customer in the cheap seats.
Making his return to the Bay Area for the first time since agreeing to uproot to the East Coast, the ace left-hander made sure it was a happy homecoming. Sabathia held the damage to a pair of solo homers over eight strong innings as the Yankees defeated the Athletics on Tuesday, 7-2.
"It means a lot," Sabathia said. "I felt like every time I came here, this was going to be the game that I've pitched well. Tonight just happened to be the night."
A native of nearby Vallejo, Calif., who grew up rooting for the Bash Brothers-era A's and still retains his Raiders season tickets, Sabathia had a hearty cheering section on hand, using a fraction of his seven-year, $161 million deal to purchase approximately 150 seats for friends and family.
The portion of the crowd rooting for the Yankees got a good show, as the Bombers rapped A's relievers Jay Marshall and Santiago Castilla in a five-run sixth inning. The victory was the Bombers' 75th of the season -- the first team in the Majors to reach that mark -- and it snapped New York's modest two-game losing streak to remain seven games ahead of American League Wild Card-leading Boston.
"I think this was a big win for us, because you do want to stop it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We've had a couple of three-game losing streaks, and we've come out very well. Let's just make it a two-game losing streak."
Tempers flared in the first inning as A's starter Vin Mazzaro, a North Jersey product, hit Alex Rodriguez on the left elbow with a pitch. The slugger was also hit in a similar spot during the club's series at Seattle last weekend and winced heavily as he made his way down to first base.
After retiring the first two batters in the bottom half of the first, Sabathia made sure to play the role of good teammate, firing a fastball behind Kurt Suzuki and prompting both benches to be warned by home-plate umpire Jerry Layne.
The Oakland catcher had the proper response, belting Sabathia's next pitch over the left-field wall for a solo homer. Sabathia also allowed a homer to Tommy Everidge in the second inning, but held Oakland the rest of the way in scattering five hits, walking one and striking out seven.
"I'm just trying to make pitches," Sabathia said. "I always want these guys to swing early in the count so I can go deeper in the game. When they scored the two in the first two innings, I was just trying to keep it right there and let these guys come up to have a big inning. They did."
Mazzaro allowed two runs (one earned) in five innings, with New York's first run scoring on an Adam Kennedy error in the second and Jorge Posada connecting for a ground-rule double in the third.
With Sabathia clamping the damage after the two homers, the Yankees took the lead in the sixth. Nick Swisher greeted Marshall with a one-out double to left-center and moved up on a passed ball before Melky Cabrera was hit by a pitch on a play that drew laughter from the Yankees' dugout, as he fell on top of and over the A's catcher Suzuki.
Derek Jeter followed with a ground single into left field, bringing home Swisher and giving the Yankees their first advantage of the night. The 3-for-5 showing continued a strong run for Jeter, who has hit in all six games on this trip and is batting .403 over his past 14 contests.
"People always look at how many numbers or hits you get," Jeter said. "Sometimes you get bad swings and hits. My whole thing is I just want to swing at strikes, and I've been swinging at strikes the last few days."
"He's been really, really good," Girardi added. "He's been good all year for us. He has done a great job in that leadoff spot. He sparks so many things."
On their way to the five-run frame, Johnny Damon sent Cabrera around with a bloop double to left that rolled into the Oakland bullpen area. Rodriguez worked a bases-loaded walk before Hideki Matsui and Posada drove in runs to put the game away.
"CC was dominant tonight," Swisher said. "It seemed like once we got him the lead, there was no giving it back. He's a great pitcher. That's why he's got a Cy Young sitting in his house somewhere."
With Sabathia at 94 pitches through eight innings, Girardi opted to call it an evening and called upon Dave Robertson to record the final three outs. It was enough work for Sabathia, who is 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA in four August starts and appears to have found a new gear.
"One thing that's probably helped him is that he's been to a couple of different places," Jeter said. "He was in Cleveland and in Milwaukee in the middle of that pennant race there. We've seen him do it against us enough times. It seems like he really hasn't had much of an adjustment period."
Sabathia had jokingly said that he wondered if he'd acquired some bad karma over the years at the Coliseum, where he came in 1-4 with a 7.12 ERA in eight starts. It was especially perplexing because he'd had no such issues across the Bay Bridge.
"Like I said, I've pitched well in San Francisco," Sabathia said. "It was just this place. Now I've put that behind me and I can go forward now. ... It just feels good to come in and pitch well. You can hear all [the fans], and I always know when I'm back."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.