For Yankees, Sabathia is in control and then someBig lefthander tames Angels in impressive show
It's rare that you see emotion out of Sabathia. Intensity isn't written on his face. Instead of walking around the clubhouse wearing a scowl and ear buds or pushing a sound system's decibel tolerance to its limits, Sabathia is, in his words, "pretty relaxed and hanging out" on the days he pitches. He'll break down his fantasy football team, play the old-school Nintendo game RBI Baseball or -- get this -- actually exchange a word or two with a writer.
"He's not one that's quiet in here," said Andy Pettitte. "He's as relaxed as anybody flying around here."
When Randy Johnson was here, you were strongly advised to stand at least 10 feet from him and his locker. Reporters would jokingly offer a cash reward if someone were to tap him on his shoulder and ask, "Hey, how's it going?" Sabathia would actually respond, telling you that it's all good. He's that smooth. He's the anti-Big Unit. Game 1 of the American League Championship Series is the best example to date. When Sabathia worked the count to 2-2 to Napoli, 49,688 people chanted "CC! CC!" in unison. It was the first time we've heard that from Yankees fans, and the first time in a long time the Yankees had the true definition of an ace on the mound working deep into October.
The big lefty ended the at-bat with a punch out and a fist pump. He had to let it out.
"That was a great feeling to have the Stadium rocking and to be chanting my name, and to be able to get a strikeout," Sabathia said. "I was pretty pumped up. I don't really show a lot of emotion a lot of times, but it came out of me there."
This wasn't Johnson. Nor, thankfully, was it Kevin Brown. Sabathia is being paid a lot of money, and that strikeout showed that you get what you pay for. In the case of Game 1, it was a postseason-high eight innings pitched, allowing only a run on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts in the Yankees' 4-1 win for a 1-0 ALCS lead, and more validation that the Yankees signed more than an ace. They acquired someone who not only has lifted an entire team on his broad back and carried it through the firestorm of a pennant chase, but he's also someone whom you stop and drop everything to watch perform.
"When you see him doing that, it's just fun to watch," Pettitte said. "It's amazing watching somebody that big and that strong who can throw hard be able to throw change-ups at any time. It cripples a lineup when he can do that.
"He's almost automatic, man. It's been amazing to see what he's been able to do." Yep, those who said Sabathia can't pitch in cold weather and threw his career numbers against the Angels in our face were absolutely right, weren't they? Those gasbags obviously forgot that Sabathia pitched seven-and-a-half seasons in Cleveland, a city whose poor souls deal with wind chill and snow so often that they're punch drunk.
All Sabathia, the cold-weather and postseason flop, did in Game 1 was silence a good offensive team and keep their sprinters off the bases. In other words: Take that.
"He pitched eight innings against this club and only gave up one run," said manager Joe Girardi. "That's quite a performance, because this is a very good offensive club. And he kept the guys that can create problems off the bases all night. He was sensational."
Derek Jeter is the face of this franchise, but Sabathia is an attraction showcased every five days. You sit back and watch him deal. You marvel on how he's in total control of his emotions, in charge of the game, practically telling opposing hitters, "I dare you." Prior to Sabathia's lockdown, the Angels pounded Yankees pitching for 33 earned runs in 41 2/3 postseason innings. Friday night he worked longer than any Yankee starter against the Halos in the playoffs since Chien-Ming Wang (6.2 innings) and Shawn Chacon (6.1) in Games 1 and 4 of the 2005 ALDS, respectively.
"That's why we got CC, to be a workhorse during the season, of course, but also to shut down teams in the postseason," said Johnny Damon.
His only hiccup came in the fourth when Kendry Morales' two-out single put the Angels on the board. He fell behind 2-0 on the next hitter, Howie Kendrick, but continued to challenge him inside. On 2-1 he threw a four-seam fastball that Kendrick lined to Melky Cabrera for the final out. L.A. would get a runner in scoring position just once more.
All this while, Sabathia worked quickly enough to keep his defenders from turning into ice sculptures.
"He doesn't seem to get flustered by too much," Jeter said. "Even when he gives runs up, he has the same demeanor. We've been seeing it all year. He's done it against us. It's exactly what we thought he would do."
Thanks to Sabathia, the Yankees have a fully-stocked bullpen in the event that A.J. Burnett implodes in Game 2. And even if Game 2 is washed out, depending on what TV dictates, Sabathia is in line for that Game 4 start on regular rest. This is the payback for resting him an extra day or two last month in preparation for October: The Angels are on notice that they'll have to plow through that 6-7, 290-pound roadblock for a shot at the title.
"I got the rest in September," Sabathia said. "I just had a pretty good game. The command was there."
On this night, he had total control of a baseball team, as well as an entire city.