Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working
CC Sabathia didn't need to look. The crack of the bat told him everything he needed to know about Grady Sizemore's shot, that this hit was destined to leave the ballpark.
Where it would land meant nothing to Sabathia. In his mind, the ball already was gone the moment it left Sizemore's bat. Pitchers know.
The three-run homer capped Boston's four-run sixth inning Friday night, ruining a promising night for Sabathia. It also was all the Red Sox needed in a 4-2 win.
As Sabathia deals with his diminished fastball, it's really not a question whether he can succeed. He can. He proved it throughout the majority of Friday night's game, missing bats at a rate similar to the days when he threw in the mid-90s.
The more pressing issue, the one that Sabathia has to deal with about every pitch he throws these days, is the thin line between a good pitch and one that winds up in the bleachers.
"I think that's fair to say that any time a guy has less velocity, a guy has less margin for error," manager Joe Girardi said. "If you're throwing the ball 95 or 96, you're going to get away with a few pitches."
When the sixth inning began, Sabathia was riding a one-hitter, especially impressive because it was against a team that has owned him in recent years.
In 12 starts against Boston in the previous three seasons, Sabathia had a 6.48 ERA and 1.68 WHIP. Against the rest of the league, he had a 3.33 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.
You wouldn't know that from watching the first five innings, but everything changed in the sixth.
In a span of five hitters to start the inning, Sabathia gave up two home runs -- a leadoff shot by Jonny Gomes and the three-run blast by Sizemore, his former teammate in Cleveland -- sandwiched around two singles.
Just like that, a 1-0 Yankees lead became a 4-1 deficit.
Call it frustrating -- as Sabathia did -- but don't call it surprising. This is who Sabathia is now, and the Yankees know it.
"I look at it as one pitch," Girardi said. "A slider that he left up to Sizemore was the difference in the game."
It was similar to Sabathia's last start in Toronto, when he allowed one run in 52/3 innings and then gave up three runs and four consecutive hits before finishing the sixth inning.
"I just haven't been able to put a whole game together," Sabathia said.
That's why Sabathia yelled into his glove as he walked off the mound after the Red Sox's four-run sixth inning Friday night, frustrated that his positive outing had slipped away.
Sabathia was pitching with a fastball that sat mostly at 89 mph, down from his average of 91 last year and 92 in 2012, but he made it work for him. He struck out nine batters and induced 19 swings-and-misses, three more than he got in his first two starts combined.
But as Girardi said, "One pitch in a tight ballgame is sometimes going to beat you."
Catcher Francisco Cervelli wanted a 1-and-0 fastball on the outer half of the plate to Gomes leading off the sixth inning, and Sabathia missed his spot by just a tad. Gomes deposited it over the leftfield fence, tying the score at 1.
Four hitters later, Sizemore's three-run homer came on a slider that didn't have enough bite.
That's all it took to hand Sabathia his second loss in three starts. His stuff isn't good enough anymore to overcome poorly timed mistakes, something he knows all too well -- often just by the crack of the bat.