Yankees 4, White Sox 0
C. C. Sabathia strode off the mound Saturday, awash in an ovation that thundered throughout Yankee Stadium. The big left-hander had done more than bury the Chicago White Sox over five scoreless innings: He had stabilized the Yankees after a four-game losing streak reverberated all the way to the executive level.
“There’s a lot of poor play going on,” General Manager Brian Cashman had said, before Sabathia came to the rescue in Saturday’s 4-0 victory.
Even for an April contest, the afternoon was full of drama. When Sabathia took the mound in the first inning, he was putting the finishing touches on a recovery from off-season cardiac surgery. Though he was cleared by the team’s medical staff and had passed every on-field test along the way, Sabathia, who now has a stent in his heart, was nevertheless dealing with an old-fashioned case of butterflies as he looked in for a sign from catcher Kyle Higashioka.
“It was just those nerves,” Sabathia said with a grin. He was not the only one feeling tense.
Not only have the Yankees lost 11 players to the injured list, but two of their front-line starters — James Paxton and J. A. Happ — have thrown poorly. Luis Severino, the ace, is out for at least six weeks with a mysterious latissimus strain. Cashman said he had “no idea” how the young right-hander had sustained such a serious injury.
To say the Yankees were counting on Sabathia is no understatement. His legacy in the Bronx has been forged by pitching well under pressure — a stopper, despite his age (38), the mileage on his arm (almost 3,500 innings), the condition of his right knee (bone-on-bone arthritis) and his proximity to the finish line. Sabathia plans to retire after this season and will not entertain questions of a comeback.
That is what turned the performance against Chicago into a miniature classic: Except for Jose Rondon’s single up the middle in the third inning, Sabathia held the White Sox hitless through five innings. He was precise on the corners — 42 of his 62 pitches were thrown for strikes — and his pitches were delivered according to a time-honored strategy of keeping opponents off balance.
Sabathia’s cut-fastball and two-seamer hovered between 88 and 90 miles per hour. His slider and changeup chugged along in the low 80s. But the radar gun hardly tells the story of Sabathia’s success. He moved the ball in and out, never throwing two pitches in the same location or at the same speed. The Yankees’ defense made several good plays, including Tyler Wade’s diving stop to his left of Wellington Castillo’s one-bounce sizzler in the third inning, but the White Sox mostly looked uncomfortable at the plate.
That, in turn, opened the door to the Yankees’ breakthrough in the seventh inning. After being held scoreless through six innings by an equally efficient Ivan Nova, the Yankees capitalized on a critical error by Yolmer Sanchez in the seventh. Nova allowed Gleyber Torres a leadoff single that called for a pitching change: The left-hander Jace Fry appeared to win the at-bat against Greg Bird, inducing a grounder to second that had all the makings of a double play. But Sanchez misplayed the ball; all runners were safe.
Clint Frazier’s single off Ryan Burr loaded the bases before pinch-hitter Luke Voit’s run-scoring single, Higashioka’s sacrifice fly and Wade’s perfectly executed safety squeeze gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead they never relinquished. Aaron Judge dunked a home run just over the right-field fence in the eighth, and the Yankees were on the way to their cleanest game in a week.
The White Sox could not get the ball out of the infield against Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman in the final two innings. As the Yankees shook hands with one another afterward, it was hard to believe they were the same group that had looked so listless during the losing streak.
Was it the law of averages finally giving the Yankees a break? Or was it more than that? Sabathia’s teammates say there is a different vibe on the field and in the clubhouse when he is among them.
“He’s our leader,” Judge said, and no one argued the point. It’s that big smile, the booming laugh, and the overriding sense that nothing can stop this man. Not a bad knee or a heart scare, and certainly not the disappearance of that once-feared fastball.
As he begins his farewell tour, Sabathia is asking only for the chance to pitch in those high-leverage situations, even in April. The old war horse did more than prove to the White Sox that well-strategized pitching trumps good hitting: He allowed the Yankees to finally exhale.
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