Two somewhat-related items we took away from the Yankees’ 6-2 victory over the Red Sox in Thursday night’s opener of this four-game series in the Bronx.
First, Joe Girardi & Co. still have a shot, however slim, at the AL East title.
And secondly, CC Sabathia gets really offended when people bunt on him, as former teammate Eduardo Nuñez did in the first inning.
The connection? If Sabathia doesn’t become enraged at Nuñez, who reached when Sabathia threw wide to first base for an error, maybe he doesn’t have the emotional fuel to outlast the Red Sox for six innings.
Sabathia needed 27 pitches to escape the bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first, then yelled a few expletives toward the Red Sox on the way to the Yankees’ dugout, and he remained hot long after the game.
“I just feel like they’re taking the weak road,” said Sabathia, who improved to 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this season. “I think they just think I’m a bigger guy and I can’t field my position.”
If that’s truly the case, it’s a silly strategy, basically handing Sabathia easy outs (if he had, in fact, managed to deliver a more accurate throw to Greg Bird). The Red Sox have done it to Sabathia in the past, so he’s always on guard, and those feelings are simmering beneath the surface before he even throws a pitch.
“I’m an old man. They should try to kick my butt,” said Sabathia, 37. “It just gets you fired up. It makes you want to beat them.”
The Yankees, coming off their own butt-whipping by the Indians, needed something to wake them up, to remind them of their precarious spot in the playoff race. After all this time looking up, the Yankees might have been better served taking a glance behind them, because that’s where the real threats are looming.
Catching the Red Sox remains a possibility, thanks to this victory, which shaved the Yankees’ deficit to 4 1⁄2 games. But they should be more concerned about fending off the Twins and Orioles, as well as a resurgent Angels team led by general manager Billy Eppler, one of Brian Cashman’s former lieutenants.
Either way, the day-to-day mission is the same, and fairly straightforward. Start by outscoring the other team, and the Yankees finally did that for a change after being outclassed by the Indians during a sobering three-game sweep. Sabathia, now 8-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 10 starts after a Yankees loss this season, set the tone by shaking off early trouble to allow only one run.
“This was fun, man,” Sabathia said. “I love this.”
During the past month, the Yankees have been atop the wild-card pile but played as if they belonged at the bottom. Since their 38-23 start, they had gone 32-39 entering Thursday night’s game, but Bird homered for the second time in as many days and the Yankees had 14 hits.
“I don’t care where it comes from,” Girardi said. “We just need it. And it doesn’t have to be the same guy every day.”
Elsewhere in the wild-card neighborhood, over at Target Field, the Twins scored two runs in the ninth and beat the White Sox yesterday on a walk- off hit-by-pitch to stay within a game of the Yankees. And did we mention what’s going on with old pal Buck Showalter down in Baltimore? The slugging Orioles have been the sport’s most dangerous offensive threat lately, leading the majors in OPS (.879) and home runs (55) the past month.
All the Angels did yesterday was trade for Justin Upton’s career-best .904 OPS and pry second baseman Brandon Phillips from the Braves. As for the Yankees, they acquired Erik Kratz, a 37-year-old catcher, from the Indians (actually, Triple-A Columbus) for backstop insurance with Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine facing suspensions.
But the Yankees didn’t need any additional help Thursday night to thump the Red Sox. Just a fired-up Sabathia, and nobody enjoyed it more.