C. C. Sabathia Is Back to Vintage Form as Yankees Edge Red Sox


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Brett Gardner scoring on Alex Rodriguez’s double in the third inning Thursday against the Red Sox.

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The scene grew tense at Yankee Stadium, or at least as tense as the fifth inning of a tie game against a last-place team can seem in early August. The Yankees were facing their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, and the bases were loaded for David Ortiz.

This was the moment for C. C. Sabathia. His 15th season has been his worst. His dependability as a bona fide starter has eroded. His confidence has wavered. He labored so much in his last start, in the searing Texas heat, that he was hospitalized with symptoms of dehydration.

So with a familiar nemesis, Ortiz, digging in with nowhere to go, and with no margin for error, it was a good time for Sabathia to rustle the cobwebs off his Cy Young repertoire. He zipped a 94-mile-per-hour fastball past a heaving Ortiz before launching into a colorful tirade as he high-stepped off the mound, his emotions spilling over.

It was a welcome, long-awaited sight for Yankees fans, and another followed soon after, when Jacoby Ellsbury launched a solo home run in the seventh. It was all the Yankees needed, and they held on to win, 2-1, in front of a sellout crowd.

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The homer came too late for Sabathia to earn a win, but after shutting down the Red Sox for six innings, with just one run and three hits allowed, along with eight strikeouts, Sabathia certainly deserved it.

The temperate conditions at the Stadium helped. Sabathia’s last start, on July 30, featured temperatures pushing past 100 degrees at the start of the game. Sabathia threw 80 pitches in five innings but needed intravenous fluids shortly after retiring to the clubhouse. He later said he had never experienced anything like it in his career.

The extra days seemed to refuel him, both physically and emotionally. He was undoubtedly fired up, and at one point in the fourth, the home-plate umpire, Rob Drake, came out to the mound to exchange words with Sabathia, a 6-foot-7 left-hander.

Sabathia said after the game that Drake had taken umbrage with Sabathia’s body language during an at-bat by Hanley Ramirez. Drake apparently warned Sabathia to behave after he walked around the mound after striking Ramirez out.

“I don’t think he needs to tell me anything,” Sabathia said, clearly still agitated by the exchange. “Don’t talk to me if I’m not talking to you. I think that’s a lot of umpires’ problems. They interpret your body language. That’s not his job. His job is to call balls and strikes.”

The emotional wave rolled on into the fifth, and Sabathia needed it to get himself out of a bases-loaded jam. He had already surrendered the game-tying single, and up came Ortiz.

They know each other well. For the most part, Sabathia has handled him admirably — Ortiz had a .239 batting average in 67 at-bats in his career against Sabathia coming into the game, with two home runs and 16 strikeouts. But he is always a threat, particularly in big moments in the Bronx.

Sabathia dealt with him carefully, using breaking pitches early. Then he put him away with an inside fastball that seemed to cut in on Ortiz’s wrists as he swung through it.

“I’m sure he was expecting the two-seamer,” Sabathia said. “It probably ran in further than he thought.”

The Yankees had taken the early lead in the third against the left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. After a single by Brett Gardner with two outs, Alex Rodriguez laced a ball to left field that sailed over Ramirez’s head.

Though Ramirez recovered and hit the relay man smoothly, Gardner was not stopping at third. Head down, arms pumping, he kept steaming toward home, and his headfirst slide enabled him to slip a hand across home plate just before the tag was applied.

Strangely enough, there was talk before the game about Gardner’s restraint on the basepaths of late, the fact that he had not collected a steal since June 12, a stretch of 43 games, after he had stolen 15 bases in 18 attempts in the first half of the season.

“The thing is,” Gardner said, “with Alex and Tex swinging the bat so well behind us, you’re essentially in scoring position when you’re on first.”

The two sluggers he was referring to, of course, were Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and his explanation proved prophetic. Rodriguez did not even need to find a gap to collect his 63rd R.B.I. this season; Gardner did the hard work for him. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead.

They had opportunities to add to it, but they struggled against Eduardo Rodriguez — until Ellsbury turned on a 2-1 pitch in the seventh and sent the ball into the right-field seats. He had been batting just .202 since coming off the disabled list in early July. A deciding home run against his former team, though, could spark him.

“I told myself to sit fastball and react to off-speed,” Ellsbury said. “I got an off-speed pitch and fortunately hit it well.”



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