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10/05/2007 10:17:00 AM

ALDS: Whiffs of a Winner

By Alex Belth

The Yankees had C.C. Sabathia right where they wanted him -- on the ropes. Cleveland's massive southpaw struggled with his control, just missing the strike zone repeatedly through the game's first five innings. The Yankee hitters were patient and Sabathia was keyed-up early and threw an awful lot of pitches. But his ability to strike batters out proved to be crucial.

In the top of the first, with two runners on, and the Yankees already ahead on a Johnny Damon solo home run -- initially ruled foul, then quickly, and correctly, overruled -- Sabathia struck out Jorge Posada. He then got Hideki Matsui to roll over on a soft breaking ball to end the inning.

In the fifth Shelley Duncan singled to right on a full count to start the inning. After Damon walked, Derek Jeter lined out to right field. Jeter will often bunt in that scenario but he's a lifetime .500 hitter against Sabathia and swung away instead. Bobby Abreu lined an outside fastball down the third-base line to score Duncan and pull the Yankees to within a run, 4-3. Alex Rodriguez was walked intentionally and Sabathia now found himself over 100 pitches.

In no time, he fell behind Posada 3-0. Then Posada swung at a 3-0 fastball and fouled it off. He swung at the next pitch, another fastball, in on his hands. Tough pitch to lay off, but probably a ball. After fouling off another heater, Posada whiffed on another borderline strike. Matsui followed with a weak pop-up and Sabathia had squirmed out of trouble.

The Indians scored five runs in the bottom of the inning and the rout was on. Posada's at bat "changed the whole inning, the whole game," said Indians' catcher Victor Martinez. Sabathia added:

I was just thinking, "Just try to make sure we end this inning with the lead." Posada helped me out a little bit by swinging at the 3-0 pitch and I was able to get out of it…I don't know if he swung at ball four, but I was a little surprised that he swung. I felt like it was a good pitch…He was trying to make something happen ... he swung, fouled it off and it helped me out huge.


Posada complimented Sabathia after the game saying the 3-0 pitch was the best one he saw in the sequence. Eric Wedge was blunt. "When things are getting a little bit crazy, that's when you need to be the coolest cat in the house."

Sabathia was able to survive trouble because of his stuff. Chien-Ming Wang throws the ball in the mid-90s but simply doesn't strike batters out. Last night, he was wild, and his sinker was up, time and again. He recorded just five groundball outs all evening, a sure recipe for disaster, and the Indians pounded him good. Posada reminded his pitcher on several occasions to keep his arm up so that he could find the right slot to throw the sinker. But Wang could not make the adjustment.

According to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times:

The pitching coach, Ron Guidry, said the Indians resisted Wang's sinkers, knowing that they end up too low to be called strikes. That forces Wang to throw the pitch higher in the zone, where it can be hit. When he tried to freelance with his off-speed pitches, he paid for it. "If you have to go away from what always works best, it's almost like a learning experience," Guidry said. "The only problem is, in a postseason game, you don't want to try to learn something new."


In Game 1 Wang and the Yankees learned the hard way. At Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe anticipated Wang's difficulties:

As good as Wang is, he's shown a decisive enough home-road split (2.75 home/4.91 away this year; 3.04/4.62 career) to prefer that he not start in Cleveland once, let alone twice if the series goes five games.


Joe Torre said that he would consider using Wang again in Game 4.




Kenny Lofton was the hero of the night for the Indians, driving in four runs on three hits. But Victor Martinez and Pronk Hafner were in fine form as well, as the Indians offense rolled.

The Yankees send Andy Pettitte to the mound tonight. It is another critical playoff Game 2 for Pettitte, who is 6-3 for the Yankees in Game 2s. Moreover, in his Yankee career, Pettitte is 70-33 following a Yankee loss.

The sky may be falling for some Yankee fans but since 1995, the Yankees are 5-0 in the ALDS after dropping the first game, 2-5 after winning Game One.

Wedge went for the jugular last night, using both Rafael Perez (two innings) and Rafael Betancourt (22 pitches in the 9th). An argument can be made that it was foolish to use both relievers in what amounted to a blowout game, but Wedge didn't want to see the Yankees claw their way back into the game, and was determined to get the win last night. Perez and Betancourt fared just fine on back-to-back days this season, and you'd have to imagine they'll be on call nightly for the Tribe for the rest of the playoffs.

The Indians will be confident with Fausto Carmona on the mound this afternoon for Game 2.

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