10/08/12 2:18 AM ET
Command performance: CC dominates Orioles
After struggling vs. Baltimore during season, Yanks ace nearly goes distance
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
If there were any doubts on that theory, Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia ensured they would not be heard on Sunday night as he dominated an Orioles lineup which had caused him fits all year.
Sabathia struck out seven and came within one out of his first complete game in the postseason, notching a dominating 7-2 victory in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Camden Yards.
"I wish I could tell you I change my game plan, but I don't," said Sabathia, who had a 6.38 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this season. "I pitch to my strength, attacking in, and just going off my fastball command, and it was working today.
"The changeup was working really well. These guys know what I am trying to do. I've faced them a lot. I was able just to execute tonight."
Sabathia's numbers against the Orioles this season weren't pretty and despite an impressive career, his overall playoffs stats haven't been all that remarkable either. He entered Sunday night with a 7-4 mark and 4.81 ERA in 17 career games, including a 5.00 ERA in the ALDS.
The 32-year-old veteran also owned a 5.46 ERA over his past seven postseason games, including six earned runs in just 8 2/3 innings during last year's opening round against the Tigers. None of that seemed to matter on Sunday, though, as Sabathia became every bit the workhorse New York needed him to be.
Sabathia allowed just eight hits and one walk while striking out seven, just one short of his postseason high. The 8 2/3 innings were the most he has thrown in a playoff game and he remained economical by throwing 80 of his 120 pitches for strikes.
"The only time you've got a shot at a quality guy like him is if his command is a little bit of an issue," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "You could tell from the get-go that he had good command of the baseball and he was around the plate.
"I said before the game that a lot of people miss how much of a pitcher he is. You go back and chart how many fastballs, how many breaking balls, how many changeups, you'd be surprised ... He's a complete guy. I don't think it's necessarily as much us as it was the type of command he had tonight."
Sabathia's lone blemish occurred in the third when the Orioles were able to string hits together. Chris Davis and Lew Ford led off the frame with a pair of singles and were then moved over by Robert Andino's sacrifice bunt.
During the next at-bat, Sabathia made one of his only mistakes on the night by hanging a first-pitch slider to Nate McLouth. Baltimore's left fielder took full advantage by driving the ball into right field for a two-run single that momentarily put the O's in front.
It was near perfection from that point on as Sabathia managed to come up with the big out whenever he needed it. There was no better example of that than the eighth when Sabathia surrendered a leadoff double to J.J. Hardy, then proceeded to strike out Adam Jones before retiring the next two batters he faced.
Sabathia then pumped his fist into the air in a rare sign of emotion on the mound. It was a testament to how big the moment was and became a rallying cry as catcher Russell Martin would eventually lead off the following frame with a homer to put the Yankees in front for good.
"I said it was his game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said when asked if he considered taking Sabathia out in the eighth. "I wasn't going to make a move. It was his game to either win or lose, and that's exactly what he did. He went out and won the game for us."
The key to Sabathia's turnaround on Sunday likely can be tied to his changeup. Martin and Girardi praised the effectiveness of the offspeed pitch and it was clear that it was a big component of Sabathia's game plan.
Sabathia threw his changeup just 12 percent of the time during the regular season according to Brooks Baseball. That number increased to 26 percent in Game 1 against the Orioles, as 21 of 31 were thrown for strikes and an additional three generated a swing and miss.
On a night when everything seemed to be working, the changeup proved to be the biggest difference.
"They're an aggressive swinging team, and when you have CC on the mound and he's got a good fastball going, you like to sometimes first pitch, offspeed," Martin said. "His changeup was really good today, so we used it quite a bit, and it's really deceiving to hitters.
"It looks like a fastball with the rotation and everything, and when it's in the good spot, especially down in the zone, you cannot really do much with it. ... It seemed like hitters were uncomfortable with CC on the mound tonight."