After getting off to a 1-4 start while allowing eight runs in consecutive games against the Tigers, the Yankees came into today’s game not yet desperate for a win, but certainly in need of one. Fortunately, that’s precisely what they got.
There was a solid chance the Tigers would sweep the Yankees. Justin Verlander was on the mound for Detroit. You never know when that guys is going to give you 8 innings of one run ball while Jim Leyland blithely allows him to throw 137 pitches. Today wasn’t that day. Verlander didn’t have his best stuff and the Yankees got to him early. The damage came in the second inning. Francisco Cervelli (who’s gotten off to an impressive .308/.438/.615 start) hit a booming double off Verlander that scored the struggling Ichiro Suzuki (.118/.200/.118) who had reached on a fielder’s choice earlier in the inning. Later in the second Jayson Nix came up and hit a two-run homer, scoring Cervelli (Nix had three hits in the game). Just like that it was three nothing Yankees.
But the pitching needed to do its part. The Yankees haven’t just struggled on offense to start the year. They’ve also had pretty much just one good start, from Andy Pettitte. CC Sabathia was facing off against Verlander, and while a lot was made of CC’s bad opening day start because it’s CC and he’s a Yankee, historically Sabathia has struggled in April and has often bounced back after a poor opening day.
Today was a reminder of why there is solid evidence that CC will continue to be a dominant pitcher, in the mold of Pettitte, even as his velocity diminishes over time. Sabathia clearly didn’t have his best stuff during the game, but it didn’t matter. He made use of all four of his pitches to good effect, especially his offspeed offerings. CC is predictable in that he usually struggles when he can’t throw his fastball for strikes consistently. While his velocity today was closer to 90-91 mph, Sabathia struggled to locate the pitch in the zone. While it meant that the big guy labored more than usual, it didn’t prevent him from grinding through an impressive outing. In total, Sabathia gave the Yankees seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits and three walks while striking out four. It took Sabathia 114 pitches, but he kept Detroit off the board and allowed the Yankees to hand the ball directly to David Robertson, who gave the Yankees his usual outing. He gave up two hits, but he also struck out two and allowed no runs.
The Yankees didn’t actually blow the game open until the later innings. The Bombers added two insurance runs in the eighth, one on an Ichiro Suzuki sacrifice that scored pinch runner Eduardo Nunez, and another on a Francisco Cervelli single that scored Vernon Wells. Three nothing is a lead, but five nothing is a borderline blow out. The insurance runs were welcome against a Tiger offense that can put runs on the board in a hurry.
The Yankees then added two more runs in the ninth inning. Kevin Youkilis had a two run single, which was a nice cap to a two for four day for Youkilis, who is currently hitting .409/.480/.727. Even though it was no longer a save situation the Yankees still gave the ball to Mariano Rivera to wrap things up. Mo wasn’t sharp. He gave up two dink hits to right and needed a diving catch by Brett Gardner to keep things from getting out of hand, but he protected the shutout as the Yankees won the game.
In total, it was an impressive win for the Yankees, one that had more of a mid-season feel to it. The team allowed no runs. Sabathia gave the Yankees a grinding but impressive outing. They scored seven runs on thirteen hits. Robertson and Rivera allowed no runs to complete the victory. Two and four is a lot prettier than one and five. That was the kind of win that starts to get things working.