CC Sabathia was so brilliant in his first start of the season on Saturday that people are going to say he alone is the reason the Yankees snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-0 victory over the White Sox at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees raised their level of play, the story will go, because their emotional leader threw five shutout innings and allowed one lone single in the first game of his final season. The Yankees fed off his energy. They felt his leadership. The Gatorade in the dugout tasted sweeter. The morning clouds parted and the sun came out because Sabathia was on the hill.
Don’t believe it. It’s myth-making. Sometimes it’s what we in the media do and what you as fans want to believe. But it’s not always the full story.
Sabathia was great. Truly. But the Yankees won mostly because they got a break in the seventh inning of a scoreless game — two innings after Sabathia departed — and took advantage of it.
Greg Bird hit a potential double-play ball that White Sox second baseman Yolmer Sanchez booted for an error. Instead of two outs and no one on, the Yankees had two on and nobody out.
The Yankees went on to score three runs in the inning. We can’t say they drove a truck through the opening Sanchez gave them because there was no big blow in the inning. We can say they drove a series of small sedans through the opening — which, given the state of the Yankees’ injury-ravaged lineup, is how they are going to have to do it for a while.
“When you [have] a mistake happen on the other side, those are the times you’ve got to capitalize,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Especially at a time when it’s tough for us. We’re kind of grinding through this. You get that kind of pitching performance and we catch a break, now all of a sudden guys go and take advantage of it and really execute at a high level to grab us a lead in what has been an obviously really well-played game on both sides.”
The inning started when cleanup man Gleyber Torres (who hit eighth on Opening Day) served a line-drive single to right. White Sox manager Rick Renteria brought in lefthander Jace Fry to face Bird, who has become a favorite target of the aptly named Yankee Stadium boo-birds.
Boone said he thought about using Luke Voit to bat for Bird but wanted to save the slugger for an RBI spot. That made sense, given that the Yankees’ 7-9 was Mike Tauchman, Kyle Higashioka and Tyler Wade.
After Bird’s ball was botched, Renteria brought in righthander Ryan Burr to face Clint Frazier, who lined a single to right (situational hitting!) to load the bases.
That’s when Boone pulled the trigger, using Voit to bat for the lefthanded-hitting Tauchman. The White Sox brought the infield in. Voit looped a broken-bat single into shallow centerfield for a 1-0 Yankees lead.
The situational hitting clinic wasn’t over yet. Higashioka, who was called up on Friday when Gary Sanchez became the 12th Yankee to go on the injured list, lined a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right.
Wade followed by pushing a perfect safety-squeeze bunt toward third as Frazier scored to make it 3-0. Aaron Judge hit a first-row homer to right in the eighth and winning pitcher Domingo German, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman followed Sabathia’s dominance with four hitless innings of their own.
Don’t misunderstand: The Yankees couldn’t have won without Sabathia’s performance, but they easily could have lost after he left the game. With a 5-8 record coming in, half their team on the IL and the Yankees’ bullpen woes of late, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a different ending.
But then Sanchez booted the ball and the Yankees took advantage. That’s not mythology. It’s just the Yankees’ tenuous reality right now.