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Sabathia, Yanks too much for Twins in Game 1

10/07/2009 10:49 PM ET
By Joe Pawlikowski/RiverAveBlues.com

CC Sabathia tips his hat after pitching 6 2/3 gritty innings in Game 1. (AP)
The Yankees have to feel good about their $161 million investment. When they signed CC Sabathia in December, it was not only to head the rotation for 30-plus starts in the regular season, but to take them through the postseason. The goal, as always, is to win 11 more games.

Sabathia took the first step towards that goal in Game 1. After struggling early in the game he recovered to finish strong, twirling 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two runs. With a high-powered offense like the Yankees, that was more than enough. They took the series opener from the Minnesota Twins, 7-2.

"That's what we envisioned when we signed him," said Joe Girardi, "that CC would be pitching in October, late October, and into November."

New York's offense, which led the league in most major statistics during the regular season, continued their heavy-hitting ways. They picked up nine hits, including two-run home runs from Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui, and a pair of RBI singles from Alex Rodriguez.

"It felt good," said Rodriguez. "It definitely felt good to contribute and get on the board." Jeter agreed. "We couldn't have drawn it up any better."

It took Sabathia 64 pitches to get through the first three innings, but he settled down after that, requiring just 31 pitches to get through the next three. He appeared to tire in the seventh, using 18 pitches to record two outs while putting runners on second and third. Phil Hughes came on to quell the threat, striking out Orlando Cabrera has he has done to so many other hitters this season.

"My changeup was really good," said Sabathia. "The cutter was pretty good with two strikes." Yet Sabathia admitted that not everything was perfect. "The fastball command wasn't always there, but I was able to make some pitches when I needed to get someone out."

The Twins scored two runs in the third to take the first series lead. With the bases empty and two outs they strung together three hits to score a run and put runners on first and third. On the first pitch to the next batter, Jason Kubel, Jorge Posada missed Sabathia's throw and the ball bounced away. After a momentary hesitation, Joe Mauer broke for home and scored his team's second run.

"It was a miscommunication," said Girardi. "They talked about what pitch they were going to throw, and the pitch wasn't thrown."

Derek Jeter answered a half inning later. The Yankees had trouble with rookie Brian Duensing the first time through the order, but found their bearings the second time around. Jeter, who singled on the first pitch in his first at bat, sat on a hanging slider, belting it deep down the left field line for a homer that reached the second deck. That tied the game at two.

An inning later the Yankees would take the lead for good. After Posada singled and Robinson Cano took his place on a fielder's choice, Nick Swisher laced a ball down the left field line, sending it into the corner. Cano hustled around second and saw third base coach Rob Thomson waving his arm. It would have taken a perfect relay, from Delmon Young to Orlando Cabrera to Joe Mauer, to get Cano, and two slightly inaccurate throws enabled him to slide in safely.

In the bottom of the fifth, for the second time in the game, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with a runner on second. He hadn't recorded a postseason hit with runners in scoring position since the 2004 ALCS, but he timed the first pitch perfectly, driving it to left center. Jeter scored easily, and the Yankees went up 4-2. Even more importantly, it got the monkey off A-Rod's back.

Another opportunity came in the seventh, this time with Jeter on third and two outs. Rodriguez drove an outside pitch to the right field wall, picking up his second RBI in the process. Between the A-Rod RBIs, Hideki Matsui took a Francisco Liriano pitch into Monument Park for a two-run shot. It was all part of a nine-hit Yankee assault.

"Everyone keeps focusing on the individual," said Rodriguez, "but this is about the team." When asked what could be read into his hits, he replied, "Nothing. One RBI and then two RBI."

After Sabathia's exit with two outs in the seventh, Joe Girardi used four pitchers to cover the final 2 1/3 innings. That included Phil Hughes for two outs, both of the swinging strikeout variety. His biggest challenge came right away, as he faced Orlando Cabrera with runners on second and third with two outs.

"You know when it's a battle and he was fighting off some pitches pretty well," Hughes said. "I told myself I was going to stick with the fastball and make him beat me, and I finally got him with the last one."

Hughes allowed a single and retired a hitter in the eighth before Phil Coke came on to face the lefty Kubel. It took him just one pitch to record an out, a liner scorched to Mark Teixeira. Joba Chamberlain then came on to face Delmon Young, and he needed just two pitches to induce a grounder to short that ended the inning.

With a day off on Thursday, Girardi did not hesitate to use Mariano Rivera in the ninth. He allowed two base runners but allowed none of them to score, recording two strikeouts and inducing a grounder to end the game.

After the game, Derek Jeter put it in perspective. "Now Game 2 is important." For the Yankees, that's all that matters right now.

Joe Pawlikowski is a writer for River Ave Blues. Read more from Joe and his team at RiverAveBlues.com
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