David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
Knowing CC Sabathia, maybe he wouldn't have willfully handed the baseball to Joe Girardi after five innings. Or six.
Sabathia likes to pitch, and in reaching 200 innings Monday night for the sixth straight season, as well as the seventh time overall, it's obvious that the big lefthander is stubborn about coming out of games.
But on this occasion, the Yankees really didn't need Sabathia to go as long he did in Monday night's 10-2 obliteration of the Red Sox. Or to put it another way, they might need him a lot more in the coming days -- such as a potential Game 163 tiebreaker Thursday or a wild-card matchup Friday.
Sabathia threw 103 pitches in eight innings, and probably didn't have to work too hard against what amounted to a Triple-A lineup on loan from Pawtucket. But the Yankees had a 9-0 lead after two innings, and with that kind of cushion, why not let Sabathia do a five-and-fly with the purpose of using win No. 15 as a tuneup for more critical spots in the very near future?
Girardi would have none of it. When it was brought up afterward, the manager made it seem like a preposterous strategy.
"I'm not worried about Friday," Girardi said. "I'm worried about today. And now that today is over, I'm worried about tomorrow. I think if you start thinking too far ahead, you can get yourself in a bad position. We have [David] Phelps going [Tuesday]. I want a full bullpen. I think that's important."
There's the wrinkle. Before the game, Girardi announced that Phelps would take Ivan Nova's rotation spot, a move that switches the ineffective Nova to long relief for the immediate future.
With Nova's recent struggles, however, it's probably best he's not used at all, especially in "high-leverage" situations, and Girardi wants his favorites well rested to back up Phelps.
Ideally, the Yankees will clinch the American League East, then can schedule Sabathia to start Game 1 of the Division Series on his regular rest Saturday or Sunday. But there are two other less-favorable scenarios. The first involves the Yankees and Orioles tying atop the division, which would mean a play-in game Thursday.
That's too early to start Sabathia, coming off 103 pitches, but he didn't rule out chipping in somehow. Asked when he could pitch again, Sabathia replied: "Whenever. I'll take the ball whenever they need me to."
That's certainly believable, but Sabathia is not Superman. He's had two DL stints this season -- one for a groin strain, the other with elbow inflammation -- so he's not bulletproof. Freddy Garcia mopped up in the ninth, essentially making it a night off for the relief corps.
"I want to try to give those guys some rest," Sabathia said, "because they've been pitching a lot."
This was all about preserving the bullpen. Or maybe Girardi is just confident the Yankees will wrap this thing up in time for Sabathia to rest up. If not, with Hiroki Kuroda scheduled for Wednesday's regular-season finale -- a torched Kuroda, we might add -- that leaves Andy Pettitte for a play-in against the Orioles and more than likely, Sabathia on short rest for the wild card, if necessary.
That's fine with Sabathia, who clearly has some momentum going as the Yankees prep for the postseason. He's pitched eight innings in each of his last three starts, striking out 29 with a 1.50 ERA. Typical Sabathia: dominant, durable, and above all, always defiant about giving up the baseball.
The Yankees got that again from him in another must-win Monday night. They just have to hope the next one is later, not sooner.
"It's put up or shut up time," Sabathia said. "I want the ball."