Commentary

Big names bomb in debut with Yanks

Sabathia, Teixeira struggle in Opening Day loss against Baltimore

Originally Published: April 6, 2009
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

BALTIMORE -- Orioles manager Dave Trembley was walking around the clubhouse before Monday's game with the sense of joy and anticipation you'd expect from a guy who spent an eternity in the minor leagues. When he wasn't giving his players instructions on where to stand for Vice President Joe Biden's pregame clubhouse visit, Trembley was privately gushing about his team's attitude and work ethic.

"We have a real blue-collar team, which is great for this city,'' he said.

Hey, that's a heartwarming sentiment and all, but no one wants to hear about the Little Engine That Could when the USS Juggernaut is in town, right?

The Yankees chugged into Baltimore for the 2009 season opener with gaudy expectations and story lines in abundance. Mark Teixeira, the Maryland kid-turned-Scott Boras poster boy, returned to the city he spurned as a free agent. CC Sabathia, proud owner of a new $161 million contract, was anxious to show he's the same hoss who carried the Milwaukee Brewers to a playoff berth in 2008.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez has been serial-texting manager Joe Girardi from Florida with positive updates on his rehab from hip surgery. So all the planets seemed to align for a Yankees thrashing of the O's and more ammunition for salary cap devotees everywhere.

Guess again. When reliever Jonathan Albaladejo jogged out of the New York bullpen with a mandate to hold the fort in the bottom of the fifth, it wasn't quite the scenario that Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family had in mind.

[+] EnlargeMark Teixeira
Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIREThe trip back to his home state wasn't a pleasant one for Mark Teixeira.

An early rainstorm cleared in time for Baltimore to administer a 10-5 thumping of the Yankees at Camden Yards. Starter Jeremy Guthrie gave the Orioles six solid innings, Brian Roberts and Adam Jones reached base nine times in 10 plate appearances out of the first two spots in the batting order, and a crowd of 48,607 -- the largest for an Opening Day in Camden Yards history -- had this place rocking at times.

The day wasn't quite so upbeat for the Yankees' new gazillionaires. Only A.J. Burnett, who is slated to pitch Thursday in the series finale, got away unscathed.

Teixeira went hitless with a walk in four plate appearances, and grounded into a forceout against Jim Johnson to kill a Yankees threat in the eighth inning. He also got a reception that could charitably be described as "hostile.''

Judging from the way the fans treated Teixeira, you'd think he had just issued a personal manifesto against crab cakes -- or Francis Scott Key. When he came out for a pregame media session in the visiting dugout, a fan in the front row waved a sign that read, "Severna Park Hates U Tex.''

The crowd booed him during pregame introductions, booed him when he left the on-deck circle and booed him again when he jogged back to the dugout after outs.

Teixeira, who attracted interest from Boston, Baltimore, Washington and the Angels before signing an eight-year, $180 million deal, seemed to regard the rough stuff as a badge of honor. He grew up in the Baltimore suburbs watching Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray play, so he's familiar with a time when this city was a little less fatalistic and a lot less reluctant to invest emotionally in its baseball team.

"I love playing in this stadium,'' Teixeira said. "I love Baltimore. The fans are passionate here. They were the greatest fans when the Orioles were winning, and I think they're looking forward to a good season. It brought me back to the days when I would boo the other team, too.

"I expect to get booed in every single stadium. We're the Yankees, and you either love them or you hate them. And in Baltimore, you definitely don't love them.''

There have been two versions of Sabathia -- the dominant, Cy Young Award winner, and the occasional impostor who's either so amped up or worn out on the big stage in October that he loses his internal compass.

The Sabathia on display Monday bore more than a passing resemblance to the CC who is 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 22 walks in the playoffs. He's the guy who can't throw his fastball for strikes, and seems to tie himself up in knots.

En Español
Read Jerry Crasnick's story in Spanish on ESPNdeportes.com.

"You know how you hear people say, 'With good pitchers, you better get to them early because they'll get on a roll'?'' Girardi said. "Today he just couldn't get on a roll. From the very first pitch.''

Sabathia gave up a leadoff single to Roberts and walked Jones -- who drew a mere 23 walks in 514 plate appearances last season -- in the first inning. Before the day was over, he threw two wild pitches, prompted two mound visits from catcher Jorge Posada and another from pitching coach Dave Eiland, and threw a whopping 96 pitches in 4 1/3 innings.

Most telling, Sabathia induced only four swings and misses all day. On a positive note, he did get lots of practice pitching out of the stretch.

Sabathia finished with five walks (one intentional) and no strikeouts. It marked only the fifth time in 255 career starts that he's failed to record at least one whiff. The last time it happened was in a 2 1/3-inning clunker against Oakland in July 2005.

"I was terrible,'' Sabathia said. "Everything I throw is off my fastball -- my changeup, my cutter, my two-seamer. When I can't find the command of that and I can't get ahead of guys, then it's pretty difficult for me.''

Only the most alarmist and unreasonable Yankees diehard is going to get too worked up over a bad game on April 6. The expectations for this New York club are huge, and Sabathia and his teammates performed well enough in spring training for Girardi to observe, "I've felt as good about this team as any team I've been on.''

Orioles
AP Photo/Susan WalshThe Orioles felt good about taking down the mighty Yankees on Opening Day.

Girardi played for the 1998 Yankees team that won 114 regular-season games and steamrolled its way through October on the way to a title, so that's saying something.

Much of Girardi's enthusiasm is predicated on the new additions, but they lack a history of fast starts. Sabathia entered this season with an 11-10 record and a 4.47 ERA in April. It's his second-worst month statistically after July. Teixeira is a .259 hitter with a .797 OPS in April. Those numbers are well below his career norms.

Does he feel more pressure to start quickly this year because of his big contract and the scrutiny it brings?

In a word, no.

"I expect to have a great April this year, and I expect to have a great game every game I'm out there,'' Teixeira said. "When it doesn't work out, I go back to the drawing board.''

The Yankees have an off day Tuesday to take a deep breath, enjoy the Inner Harbor and maybe drop by the ballpark for some tinkering. If they wanted to pick the perfect day to be far away from the New York tabloids and sports talk radio, this would probably be it.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

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