When CC Sabathia took the mound against the Mets yesterday, it had been exactly four weeks since he watched with frustration as these same hitters took batting practice against him.
As bothersome as that night was, it would have been understandable if that was a distant memory by now. In a world in which these guys play games virtually every day, a month is a very long time.
But Sabathia hadn't forgotten what happened.
"It's definitely motivation," he said, and he allowed himself to smile as he said those words because this was just minutes after he scored some payback.
Sabathia finally looked like the lock-down ace he was last summer, tossing eight scoreless innings in the Yankees' 4-0 win. And after allowing four hits and two walks, Sabathia (8-3) spoke as if he had turned a corner and is ready to go on a run.
For evidence, he pointed to how he survived the seventh inning after the Mets put their first two batters on. He struck out Rod Barajas looking - Joe Girardi called that "a dangerous at-bat" - and got Fernando Tatis to ground into an inning-ending double play.
That sequence was most impressive because Sabathia began it by falling behind Barajas 2-and-0. But he got a called strike on a 95-mph fastball, got Barajas to swing through an 88-mph changeup, then reared back for a 96-mph fastball that Barajas looked at for strike three.
"In my previous starts before, I wasn't able to make those pitches," Sabathia said. "Maybe I would have walked that guy and it would turn into a big inning."
The eight scoreless innings dropped Sabathia's ERA from 4.00 to 3.68, a respectable number for any pitcher. But Sabathia's overall statistics are helped by his dominance of the last-place Baltimore Orioles; he's 4-0 with a 2.73 ERA against them.
Before yesterday's game against the Mets, he was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA in 622/3 innings spanning 10 starts against all other teams. That includes, of course, his five-inning outing against the Mets on May 23 in which he allowed six runs (five earned) and 10 hits, including two home runs by Jason Bay.
"You want to try to look at that game and make adjustments, you know, especially because they hit me pretty hard," Sabathia said. "I knew they were going to try to come out and be aggressive, so I was just trying to get swings early in the count."
What also helped Sabathia was the heat. It was 86 degrees at first pitch, with a considerable amount of humidity, but Sabathia said he likes pitching in this type of weather. He said he didn't have to work too hard to get his arm loose and thought he had more velocity because of the weather.
His fastball has averaged 93 mph this season, but Sabathia topped out at 96 on the pitch that Barajas looked at for strike three in the seventh. And it certainly says something that despite the heat, he went deep into the game and was planning to go back for the ninth inning if not for a 22-minute rain delay in the eighth.
And who knows? Maybe this won't be the last time Sabathia faces the Mets this season. Let the record show that he thinks a Subway Series come October is possible.
"They've got the pitching and they've got the lineup," he said. "It's a long season, so we'll have to see what happens. That division is tough like ours, but they've definitely got the team to get to the playoffs."