At least CC Sabathia won’t have to worry about facing the Orioles in the playoffs. That’s about the only thing of any value to extract from the Yankees’ 5-4 loss in the first game of Monday’s doubleheader at Camden Yards.
For whatever reason, Aaron Boone & Co. seem to be the only team in the sport that has trouble beating the Orioles, who climbed to 40 games below .500 by thumping Sabathia, perhaps their favorite punching bag.
CC is winless with a 5.23 ERA in his last nine starts against Baltimore, and the latest four have been particularly messy: 20 innings, 20 runs, 10 homers. You don’t need a deep analytical dive to ferret out the reasons. Despite their 2018 tailspin, the Orioles still feature a dangerous righthanded-hitting lineup, headlined by two sluggers who have tormented Sabathia in Adam Jones (.885 OPS) and Manny Machado (1.184).
On Monday, however, CC’s greatest nemesis appeared to be plate umpire John Tumpane, whose interpretation of the strike zone was not to Sabathia’s liking. That was easy to see during the game, with the 6-6, 300-pound lefthander stomping around the mound and occasionally glaring at Tumpane.
Afterward, Sabathia spelled out the obvious when asked if he believed the ump’s zone was inconsistent. “Yeah, I felt like it was,” he said. “It’s a tough thing when you feel you’re throwing strikes but you’re not getting calls.”
In the next breath, he tried to shake it off as an excuse, adding, “I’ve been playing this game long enough to be able to clear my mind and make good pitches and not let what he’s calling affect my game. Today, I did [let it bother him].”
As strange as that admission was, stranger still was Sabathia cracking mentally. He turns 38 later this month and is in the 18th season of what is shaping up to be a Cooperstown-worthy career, so losing his cool at Camden Yards — especially against a sleepwalking club waiting to be stripped of its parts in the coming days — shouldn’t happen.
The Yankees staked Sabathia to early leads of 3-0 and 4-2, slim but reasonable margins to protect for a fully rested bullpen. In the fifth inning, Sabathia also seemed to be in a good place — despite his griping with Tumpane — when he spun around to start a 1-4-3 double play, then raised his arms like Rocky after delivering a successful strike to Tyler Wade.
It was the kind of on-field celebration usually reserved for the 27th out of a playoff win or maybe a pivotal late-September clash. To Sabathia, however, the simple act of completing that throw spurred a personal gratification that he couldn’t contain.
“I never make that play,” Sabathia said, flashing a wide grin. “I was excited.”
But the good vibes didn’t last. And when Sabathia started to unravel in the sixth, Boone got burned this time in maybe giving him too much rope.
At other points during this season, Boone has granted Sabathia the extra hitter or two in deference to who he is and what he’s meant to the Yankees (the two also are good friends). Mostly, it’s worked out.
On this occasion, Sabathia opened with a walk to Mark Trumbo — who had hit a two-run homer in the fourth — and got a bad break when Jonathan Schoop’s hard grounder kicked off the glove of first baseman Neil Walker before rolling into rightfield. A clean grab there and it’s an easy double play. For Greg Bird, it’s probably routine, but Schoop was credited with a very questionable double rather than an error. That brought Danny Valencia to the plate as the go-ahead run with none out.
Boone already was warming up Jonathan Holder, and with Sabathia at 96 pitches, he was just about done anyway. But the manager chose to stick with him for Valencia, who was in an 0-for-25 skid. That turned out to be the wrong decision when his second slider of that at-bat wound up over the centerfield fence for the game-deciding three-run homer.
“I think it was just a pitch that he knew was coming,” Sabathia said. “I probably should have went a different way right there, especially after he swung at the first one, and I tried to do it again. That was a mistake on my part.”
Once again, the mistakes keep happening for Sabathia against the Orioles.