Saturday, 26 September 2009

Yankees Beat Red Sox and Can Clinch A.L. East on Sunday


The two Cs in C. C. Sabathia’s name stand for Carsten Charles, but the Yankees cannot be faulted for thinking they mean something else. Consistency is a Sabathia hallmark, and it is why the Yankees are supremely confident heading into the playoffs. They have not lost in his last 11 starts, including his brilliant performance Saturday at Yankee Stadium, when he silenced the Boston Red Sox over seven innings in a tidy 3-0 victory.

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Johnny Damon capitalized on a botched eighth-inning rundown by blooping a two-run single.


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Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a die-hard Yankees fan, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
If it were earlier in the season, Manager Joe Girardi said he would have considered sending out Sabathia to pitch the eighth. But with a playoff berth secured, and a division championship and home-field advantage practically guaranteed, the Yankees saw no reason to ride their ace any longer.

“We want to make sure he’s real strong going into October,” Girardi said.

He was talking specifically about the division series opener, which Girardi confirmed that Sabathia would start. As if there were a doubt, Sabathia struck out eight and allowed one hit, a fifth-inning single by Mike Lowell, while bailing out a Yankees offense that had one hit — Johnny Damon’s two-run single in the eighth — in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Phil Hughes pitched a spotless eighth before giving way to Mariano Rivera, who struck out Lowell with two on and two outs in the ninth to record his 43rd save in 45 chances. Rivera preserved Sabathia’s major-league-leading 19th victory and put the Yankees in position to clinch the American League East title with a win in Sunday’s series finale.

“The responsibility that I feel is giving the team a chance to win every time out,” said Sabathia, who has failed to complete seven innings only once during this streak. “That’s what I try to do.”

For the Yankees, completing the series sweep would tie the season series with Boston at nine victories apiece, an impressive feat given the Yankees lost the first eight meetings between the teams. Of the Yankees’ eight victories in their last nine games against Boston, Sabathia was the winning pitcher in three of them. Since July 28, the last time the Yankees lost a Sabathia start, he is 9-0 with a 2.04 earned run average.

“He’s been everything that we would ask for and more,” Girardi said. “He is an ace.”

Sabathia felt a similar responsibility at this time the last two seasons, when his teams barreled into the postseason. In 2007, the Indians did not clinch their division title until the final week, so Sabathia could not afford to rest. In 2008, he willed the Milwaukee Brewers to a playoff berth, making three straight starts on short rest that he said “took a toll on me mentally more than it did physically.”

This season, Sabathia is no less responsible for the Yankees’ success, but there is no reason now to test his limits. The Yankees gave him extra days off before his last three starts, and two leading into Saturday’s.

Sabathia set down the first 11 hitters, benefiting from a superb third-inning catch by Melky Cabrera at the center-field fence to rob Jed Lowrie, before walking his old Cleveland batterymate, Victor Martinez, with two outs in the fourth. That went nowhere, as did Boston’s rally in the fifth, when Lowell broke up Sabathia’s no-hit bid with a grounder up the middle. Sabathia struck out David Ortiz, Rocco Baldelli and Lowrie, all swinging, all on sliders.

“His command,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said, “is pretty amazing.”

Francona’s own starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka, issued five walks and allowed six hits in his third start since returning from a three-month stay on the disabled list, and he always seemed to be pitching with runners on base. But the way Matsuzaka handled the Yankees’ patient lineup — seven innings, one run, 115 pitches — gave the Red Sox a sense of comfort heading into the playoffs.

In both the fourth and fifth innings, the first two Yankees reached base, but each time Matsuzaka escaped by preying on hidden aggressiveness by Yankees hitters. In the fourth, he retired Robinson Cano, Cabrera and Jose Molina on a combined six pitches. In the fifth, after walking Mark Teixeira to load the bases with no outs, Matsuzaka avoided damage as only one ball — a squibber by Alex Rodriguez — was hit in fair territory.

Leading off the sixth, Cano ripped a liner off the top of the left-field fence that caromed into the stands for his career-high 24th homer. It snapped a scoreless tie, and was good enough to earn him the coveted plastic wrestling champion’s belt that the Yankees give to the star of each win. Eventually, that is. Sabathia had it first, but he presented it to Cano, who was delighted.

“Every time I hear he’s pitching,” Cano said, “I always want to go out there and fight.”

INSIDE PITCH

Jorge Posada (stiff neck) was a late scratch from the lineup. ...The Yankees are pushing back A. J. Burnett’s next start to Tuesday so that he can be with his father, who is scheduled to have heart surgery on Monday. ... Jon Lester of the Red Sox had a red bruise on the side of his right knee after being drilled with a line drive Friday night, but he continued to say that the injury should not prevent him from pitching next week.

Jack Curry contributed reporting.

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