The New York Yankees have rarely been rewarded this season for their obligation to entrust pitcher C.C. Sabathia to start any games for them, but on Tuesday, the Yankees managed to win a game in which Sabathia started, prevailing over the Seattle Mariners 5-3 in 11 innings. Now mind, Sabathia did not play such an instrumental role in the team’s victory — that would be too much to ask for the hurler at this stage in his career arc — but in a departure from his usual pattern of pitching behavior, Sabathia did not do anything to get in the way of the Yankees winning. And for the Yankees, having Sabathia not completely derail the team’s attempts to triumph over an opponent is about as good as it is likely to get for them.
Under normal conditions, the more pitches that Sabathia throws in a game, the more his ineffectiveness is revealed, and while there were more than a few hints that Sabathia is still not the pitcher he once was and is unlikely to ever return to the proficiency he displayed with great success during his prime, he was not terrible by any means. In fact, he did an outstanding job of lessening the impact of the mistakes that he made by spreading those mistakes across a number of innings.
During his 5.7 innings of work, Sabathia found himself in serious trouble in five of them; only in the second inning did he record three outs without allowing a Mariners base runner to make it into scoring position first. For the game, Sabathia had to pitch 10 times with the Mariners holding all the run expectancy cards and threatening to do significant damage to his earned run statistics. Having Sabathia put multiple runners on base was no real surprise as he is no longer the kind of pitcher who is able to mow down with ease any opposing line-up he faces, but there were still glimpses of the old Sabathia in the outing. Despite putting so many Mariners hitters on base, Sabathia was only charged with allowing two runs, with only one of those runs scored while he was on the mound and the other being the result of reliever David Carpenter’s failure to strand a base runner he inherited from Sabathia in the sixth inning. As a result of Sabathia’s performance, he posted a positive win probability added for the first time in three starts.
With Sabathia mostly holding the Mariners offense in check, the Yankees were able to survive his appearance without ever falling behind by an insurmountable deficit. At the worst in the contest, the Yankees only trailed the Mariners 2-1, which was just a small hill for the offense to climb in order to reach the summit of victory. And after some feelings of trepidation started creeping in that the Yankees hitters might actually fail to score at least one more run in the game, the offense finally strung together enough productive plate appearances in the ninth inning. Following a walk by Chase Headley and a single by Brian McCann, Stephen Drew tied the game at 2-2 after hitting an RBI double that helped send the game into extra innings.
Then in extra innings, Drew played a part in the sequence of events that led to the Yankees’ eventual game-winner, although he was not at the forefront of the run production quite like he was in the ninth inning. With two outs in the 11th inning, Drew was able to extend the Yankees’ time at the plate by rapping a single against Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. Following in Drew’s footsteps, Brett Gardner also breathed extra life in the Yankees’ win probability by slugging a double that gave the Yankees runners on second and third bases. Not wanting to waste the clutch efforts of his teammates, Garrett Jones brought Drew, Gardner, and himself home when he crushed a pitch for a three-run home run to give the Yankees an advantage that would hold up.
Although nothing the Yankees relievers did moved the needle quite like Jones’s home run blast, the Yankees’ victory could not have been earned without the terrific yeoman’s work that the bullpen did in making sure the Mariners offense would remain lifeless long enough for the Yankees to take an edge. From the seventh through the 10th innings, the Yankees kept the Mariners from advancing past second base and by the time the Mariners finally did squeeze a run past the Yankees in the 11th inning while reliever Andrew Miller was having an off-night, it did not matter that much because of the comfortable cushion the Yankees had at that point.
The Yankees’ win on Tuesday was all the more remarkable because of the unlikely nature of it. Not only did Sabathia not get in the way of a victory, but most of the Yankees’ offense came from some of the worst hitters in the line-up. It was a win that turned season narratives on their heads for at least one game.