One down and two to go for the Yankees as they strive to escape the first round for the first time since Casey Stengel’s 1953 team made it to the Championship Series. Okay, okay, it was 2004, but who wants to remember that season with its crushing reversal of fortune against the Red Sox? I also don’t want to remember 2003 (ugly World Series loss), 2002 (rampaging Angels), or 2001 (Tony Womack? Come on), the 2000 team was one of the weaker champions you’ll see, and I resent 1999 because Derek Jeter should have won the MVP award that year but didn’t. The way things are going, I think it would be safest to go with 1953.
CC Sabathia did exactly what he was supposed to do, the thing he was paid the big money to do, which is reassuring after so many disappoints, both in terms of past Yankees signings and Sabathia’s own performance in recent postseasons. What most impressed about this start was that when the Twins were able to lay the bat on the ball, they were able to knock it for singles (six of ’em, plus two doubles), but Sabathia didn’t walk anyone and got eight strikeouts, al of them seemingly when they were most needed. It wasn’t Don Larsen ’56, but it was good enough.
With a big lead, Joe Girardi had the luxury to pull Sabathia after 113 pitches, not a high total for him. The on-off schedule of the first three games gave him the additional luxury of being able to get his mostly inexperienced relievers into the postseason in a relatively low-pressure situation. Using four relieves, including Mariano Rivera, in a 7-2 game seemed like a bit of overkill, but with Thursday off, Girardi can make changes like there’s no tomorrow, because, well, there isn’t.
The one disturbing aspect of the game was Jorge Posada’s bad night behind the plate. It was as if Old Man Jorge set out to confirm every paranoia that has been attributed (probably unfairly) to A.J. Burnett. Two passed balls and a wild pitch in one game is an extremely poor showing, regardless of if Sabathia might have crossed up his catcher on one of the three misses. Posada has always missed a lot of balls. He’s the active leader in passed balls, and his first next year will vault him into the top ten all time (fortunately, all-time leader Lance Parrish’s record of 192 seems out of reach). As he becomes older and more immobile, there are going to be ever more balls skipping past him. At the risk of overreacting to what could be one aberrant game, tonight might have been a preview of the moment, coming perhaps in 2010 or 2011, when Posada’s bat still plays but the sheer number of balls sailing by or rolling to the backstop make him an untenable catcher.
Those misses represent just one base given up and amount to nothing most of the time, but you can get into difficult psychological territory when pitchers feel they are not being properly supported. Mackey Sasser’s problem returning the ball to the pitcher with the Mets in the late 1980s didn’t necessarily lead directly to any runs scoring, but it definitely had the pitchers angry and distracted. One hopes that this day is farther off that it appears after tonight, because if it happens sooner then there will be a gap between Posada and Austin Romine or Jesus Montero or whoever the next catcher the Yankees produce who can hit with more authority than Jose Molina.