CLEVELAND — For four innings on Wednesday night, CC Sabathia was as dominant as he ever has been and made Joe Girardi’s decision to go with the veteran over Sonny Gray for the biggest game of the season look brilliant.
In the Yankees’ series-clinching 5-2 victory over Cleveland, the 37-year-old looked like the pitcher who dominated the Orioles twice in the 2012 ALDS, his last postseason victories before Wednesday.
He retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out six, before Francisco Lindor singled to lead off the fourth.
Sabathia had no trouble getting out of that inning, striking out two more and then fanning Carlos Santana to open the fifth with the Yankees leading 3-0.
But as has sometimes been the case with big lefty this season, he unraveled quickly. After the strikeout of Santana, Sabathia allowed four straight hits.
Austin Jackson started it and went to third on a Jay Bruce single to right. Roberto Perez’s single to right scored Jackson, and Giovanny Urshela followed by grounding one through the right side of the infield to knock in Bruce and make it 3-2.
And just like that, Sabathia’s outing was over after just 4 ¹/₃ innings and 69 pitches.
His nine strikeouts matched a season-high, but they didn’t do him much good in the fifth. He left with runners on first and second.
Robertson, though, made quick work of Lindor, getting him to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Robertson’s 2 ²/₃-inning performance helped make up for Sabathia’s sudden trouble.
Beforehand, Girardi noted the high expectations he had of Sabathia.
“We’ve seen it so many times,” Girardi said of Sabathia pitching well in important spots. “It’s in personality. He’s had the experience that he’s been in these types of games and he doesn’t change. I think he embraces them. … You look at when he signs up for a season, this is what he signs up for, these type of games. And I think that’s why we all have so much confidence in him.”
Sabathia didn’t see any drama until Perez tried to bunt for a hit with one out in the third. The catcher popped up the bunt in front of the mound, where Sabathia dove awkwardly to make the play.
Sabathia, who reacted angrily when the Red Sox deployed a similar tactic earlier in the season, screaming at their bench — and former Yankee Eduardo Nunez — didn’t seem as bothered this time around.
After adjusting the brace on his right knee, Sabathia came back to strike out Urshela. He pitched around Lindor’s leadoff single to left in the fourth before exiting in the fifth. He’ll no doubt get a chance to start again against the Astros.
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