The New York Yankees just finished wrapping up a dream series against the Kansas City Royals, but because of the nature of baseball’s scheduling, there is never much time for in-season basking of glory. So the Yankees had precious little time to enjoy their series sweep of the Royals before they were tasked with traveling cross-country in order to play the Oakland Athletics on Thursday for the start of a four-game series. Going from squaring off against the Royals to playing the Athletics seemed like a huge step down in competition, but the Athletics are a lot better than their 17-32 record entering Thursday’s contest suggested. To that point of the season, the Athletics had been plagued by an abysmal record in one-run games — the Athletics held just a 2-15 record in one-run contests — but the Athletics bucked that trend by knocking off the Yankees 5-4 to win the opening game of the series.
The Athletics’ win was a long time in the making as it appeared for most of the contest as if they were destined to lose to the red-hot Yankees squad. After the first five and a half innings, the Athletics were trailing 3-1 and had seen their win probability dip to just 23.7 percent. But the Athletics had an ace up their sleeve when it came to salvaging a win over the Yankees, and that trump card was the fact that Yankees starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia was on the mound and he was about to get up to C.C. Sabathia-type things for the duration of his appearance on the mound. And when Sabathia’s pitches began to falter, the Athletics were ready to exploit that fact and take advantage of what Sabathia was no longer able to do.
Sabathia pitched well for the first couple of innings, retiring six straight batters to start the contest, but he began to run into trouble in the third inning when he allowed the Athletics to load the bases against him with just one out in the inning. He would eventually regain his form enough to strand all three of those base runners and looked to have settled down again when he retired three of the four batters he faced in the fourth inning, but the cracks that were beginning to show in his pitching became more and more undeniable.
With every additional pitch that Sabathia throws, he becomes more and more ineffective, and that phenomenon was most prevalent during the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings that the Athletics used to claw their way back into the game and eventually take the lead. During the fifth inning, Sabathia conceded the inevitable home run when he allowed Billy Burns to tee off on one of his pitches and deposit it in the stands. Then in the sixth inning after giving up a double to Ben Zobrist, Sabathia was again at his least proficient when he served up a pitch to Brett Lawrie that Lawrie hammered for a two-run home run that tied the game at 3-3 apiece heading into the seventh inning.
At least Sabathia did not give up a home run in the seventh inning, not that that fact kept him from playing a further part in the Yankees’ demise. In the seventh inning, Sabathia put the only two men that he faced on base, two events which served to cost the Yankees 14.0 percent in win probability. Sabathia did not finish the inning so he was not directly responsible for the travesty that immediately followed his departure, but by giving the Athletics a 1.52 run expectancy after those two hitters reached base, he made it more likely that they would be able to score at least one run.
As it turned out, the Athletics would score two after reliever David Carpenter made a mess of things. Carpenter retired the first batter he faced, but then followed that up by conceding a single, issuing a bases-loaded walk that drove in the Athletics’ fourth run of the contest, and then gave up a sacrifice fly that gave the Athletics a 5-3 lead. Carpenter definitely deserved blame for his ineffective pitching, but the single and the walk would not have been quite so damaging without Sabathia’s negative contributions to start the inning.
In large part because of the middling pitching performances of Sabathia and Carpenter — the two pitchers combined for a -.396 win probability added — the Yankees fell in Thursday’s contest, but the Yankees offense also bears some responsibility for the defeat. They could have done a little bit better with their plate appearances with runners in scoring position in order to notch a couple of more runs of support that might have survived the Athletics’ late-game offensive onslaught.
The Yankees had an unfortunate late-game letdown in their proficiency, and it resulted in their first loss in four games. But just like the Yankees did not have a great deal of time to celebrate their dismantling of the Royals’ mystique, they will not have to worry too much about drowning in the sorrow of losing on Thursday, and they will be back at it on Friday to attempt to even things up in the series.