Up until yesterday I haven’t felt such baseball-related anxiety since the 2004 postseason. My palms were actually sweating despite the Yankees having a 6-1 lead heading into the sixth. I suppose that’s the natural reaction for a fan watching his team teeter on the precipice of elimination. Unfortunately, my angst was not unwarranted and the Rangers proved that in the sixth inning. However, Yankees ace CC Sabathia was able to mitigate the damage and bring the game one step closer to Mariano Rivera. Here’s a breakdown of what transpired.
Proven Yankee-Masher Vladimir Guerrero came to the plate. CC’s very first pitch was a fastball located in the lower right quadrant of the strike zone. However, it didn’t paint the corner and Vlad was able to make pretty good contact on the ball. Fortunately for Sabathia and the Yankees, the ball sailed foul. The second pitch was another fastball up and away (clearly outside of the strike zone). Once again, Vlad fouled off the pitch. This pitch was much more prudently located as Guerrero has a propensity to swing at anything. With a 0-2 count, the third and fourth pitches (also fastballs) were almost identically located up and in on the corner. Vlad took his survival hacks and managed to foul both pitches. Finally, Sabathia delivered an 81mph slider which had a filthy eight-inch vertical break to it. It basically landed on the inside half of the plate around Vlady’s feet resulting in a strike out. Five pitches later, one down.
David Murphy was due up next. On the fifth pitch of the at bat, he singled on a line drive to right field with one out. Sabathia proceeded to throw three(!) changeups in a row that were all called for balls against Ian Kinsler. After a called-strike fastball, Kinsler connected with the fifth pitch (a fastball) of the exchange, sending a ground ball to left field. By this point in the inning Sabathia had a man on first and second with one out after 15 pitches. After the next two pitches, Ex-Met Jeff Francoeur singled on a fastball located low and in (the Rangers' third straight single on a 3-1 count). With one out, the bases were loaded and Dave Eiland was pacing to the mound.
As Matt Treanor approached the plate, I (like many members of the Yankees faithful) sat nervously. Sabathia had thrown a lot of pitches. What better opportunity would there be for the series to go full circle with a ridiculous come-from-behind Ranger victory? Thankfully, CC never lost his composure and was able to bear down.
By this point, Sabathia decided to go to his bread-and-butter, the slider. He threw a perfect pitch up and away. However, the umpire called it a ball. The fourth pitch, another slider, was not-so-well located and landed in the dirt leading to a 2-2 count. By the fifth pitch, it was clear that Sabathia was laboring to survive the inning. He threw a changeup low in the strike zone, once again grazing the line. Again, neither the umpire nor Treanor took the bait.
With a 3-2 count, Sabathia went back to the fastball throwing one right down the middle. That was the pitch I was certain was going to split the outfield and roll clear to the wall. Instead, foul ball. Posada refreshed the signs for what seemed like the millionth time. The seventh pitch was another fastball in the heart of the strike zone. Treanor made contact and sent a sharp drive to Alex Rodriguez. Murphy scored. Kinsler progressed to third (although the television showed a tag might have been possible). Treanor was thrown out at first. With two outs and two men in scoring position (25 pitches later), the score was 6-2.
I have to hand it to Sabathia. The next at-bat exemplified why he’s the quintessential ace.
The very first pitch was a well-placed 81mph slider with a nine-inch vertical break on the outside edge of the strike zone. Mitch Moreland had no chance with this pitch and whiffed. The second pitch was a fastball perfectly located on the upper inside corner of the strike zone. Unfortunately, the umpire (and the perpetual insistence on human error) interpreted the pitch differently. Instead of a 0-2 count, Moreland had a much more hitter-friendly 1-1. The third and fourth pitches were both sliders designed to go low and away. Both should have been balls but Moreland wound up fouling both off.
The fifth pitch directed toward Jorge Posada was a fastball up and away. Again, Moreland fouled the pitch off. The count remained 1-2. The sixth pitch was exactly what it should have been. Sabathia threw a slider low and away. While it wasn’t in the strike zone, it was close enough that it should have forced Moreland to commit. Evidently, Moreland has a pretty good batter's eye because he managed to hold back and the count went to 2-2. The seventh pitch's location was even worse. It was above the knees but well off the plate. Moreland found it appealing (or must have figured another Yankees fan deserved a souvenir) and promptly fouled it off.
Sabathia’s eighth pitch was an 80mph, waist-high slider on the inner half of the strike zone. Moreland’s bat was frozen and with one emphatic umpire arm thrust, the third strike was called. After 33 pitches, Sabathia had survived the inning with the lead intact. The Rangers never once gave up and it took some major resiliency for Sabathia to get through the inning. Listed below are the corresponding WE% and WPA for each Ranger at-bat.
The inning begin with the Yankees WE% at 95.8% and fell down to 88.4%, but thankfully by the time the inning was over it was back up to 94.6%. Things certainly could've been a lot worse, and this inning showed once again why CC Sabathia has been worth every last penny the Yankees are paying him.