Commentary

CC Sabathia's arm does all the talking

Ace aces A's for 19th win, makes his point against Dallas Braden with yet another gem

Updated: September 8, 2010, 5:30 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The last time CC Sabathia hooked up with Dallas Braden was the day Braden, flush with a well-pitched victory over the Yankees, famously ordered Alex Rodriguez to get off his mound.

Thursday at Yankee Stadium, if it was in his nature, Sabathia could have thrown those words right back at Braden. Or, on this day, just about any other pitcher in baseball.

To say that CC Sabathia is good has become a cliché as self-evident as saying the Empire State Building is tall. But that's how good Sabathia was against the Oakland A's on Thursday, good even by his own standards. So good that he nearly lulled his outfielders to sleep and left the impression that Braden, who pitched a whale of a game himself before leaving with cramps resulting from the intense heat, had been seriously outperformed.

[+] EnlargeCC Sabathia
AP Photo/Mark LennihanCC Sabathia made it look easy, winning his 19th game of the season Thursday afternoon.

In reality, at the time Braden left, three pitches into a Curtis Granderson at-bat in the bottom of the sixth, he had allowed just two hits and one run, thanks to Jorge Posada's second-inning home run.

It was a line just about any starting pitcher in the league could be proud of, but on this day, a day in which Sabathia kept the A's in the infield for a stretch of 19 batters, spanning nearly six innings, you just knew that Braden had pitched himself right into a loss.

Over eight innings, the only thing that stood between Sabathia and his first career no-hitter was a single by Mark Ellis leading off the second. From that point on, the next 19 outs either came by way of strikeout, ground out or infield pop out in one of the purest displays of dominance by a New York Yankees pitcher all season.

"That's about as good as it gets," manager Joe Girardi said.

"I don't think I got one ball hit to me, either on the ground or in the air," said Curtis Granderson. "Absolutely amazing."

Sabathia's brilliance even overshadowed Granderson's big day, in which he hit two towering home runs in consecutive at-bats after being forced into service when Nick Swisher had to leave the game with soreness in his left knee related to the foul ball injury he had suffered last week in Toronto.

Granderson's feat is something that will happen every so often in a player's career; it was the sixth time he had hit two home runs in a game.

But what Sabathia did on the mound is something he seems to do in one form or another every five days. He had a game similar to this -- and probably even more dramatic -- back in April, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But not even on that day was he as dominant as he seemed Thursday, when even without being particularly spectacular -- he walked three and struck out five -- you just knew that a one-run deficit was going to be too much for the A's to overcome.

"He had no-hit stuff today, he really did," said Posada.

Now he is in a position to do something else he has never done, which is win 20 games. And now that he has won 19 -- the victory ran Sabathia's record to 19-5 and lowered his ERA to 3.02 -- the big fella will even allow himself to look ahead to it.

"I think it would be cool," he admitted. "But really, it's just another game in the middle of the season. It's kind of hard to think about personal accomplishments when we're trying to win a division."

A division that would be even tougher to win if the Yankees didn't have Sabathia to bolster their often wobbly rotation.

The final score, 5-0, had nothing to do with Braden, the other runs coming at the expense of Oakland relievers Jerry Blevins, Michael Wuertz and Justin James.

But the zero part of that score had everything to do with Sabathia, who only once in the game pitched in any kind of trouble, after having grazed Kurt Suzuki with a pitch and walked Kevin Kouzmanoff to start the eighth.

But as soon as the threat developed, it evaporated, on a strikeout of pinch hitter Daric Barton, and a shallow fly ball to right by Coco Crisp -- the first time Oakland managed to leave the infield since Landon Powell ended the second by flying out to left -- and a forceout by Rajai Davis.

That ended Sabathia's day, after 95 pitches in humid 92-degree weather that ate up Braden but only seemed to energize Sabathia.

"I think he was getting better as the game went on," Girardi said. "But it was a hot day and CC is someone we have to take care of a little bit."

Especially since he is the one Yankees pitcher who not only has never had a bad day all season, but really, isn't even allowed to. His worst day of the year came May 13, when he allowed six runs in six innings to the Tigers. Other than that, his lines have been ridiculous, his average innings pitched impressive, his pitch counts so high they make your arm hurt just looking at them.

Girardi attributed Sabathia's great endurance to his great size. "This is a big, strong man," the manager said. "He's [a] football player playing baseball."

It was an assessment that made Sabathia smile: "I could see myself playing the offensive line."

No doubt, he could protect quarterbacks, but the Yankees need him instead to protect the integrity of their pitching staff. "He's been the one constant," Girardi said. "The stabilizing force."

And the one man who could tell Dallas Braden to get off his mound and not get into an argument about it.

GAME NOTES: This was the first time the Yankees had swept a four-game series from the Oakland Athletics in just about a quarter-century, since Sept. 5-8 1985. ... Granderson's two home runs gave him 17 for the season. Since having his swing "rebuilt" by hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson is 20-for-65 (.308) with 7 HRs and 11 RBIs. And he has significantly improved against lefties, hitting .417 (10-for-24) with two homers, including the solo shot off Blevins in the at-bat in which Braden left the game. ... Swisher said he felt "a pop" Wednesday night in the area of his left knee where he fouled the ball off last week, experienced stiffness and soreness during pregame warm-ups Thursday, and realized he couldn't go when trying to run out a first-inning ground out. He is officially listed as day-to-day. ... Girardi said Andy Pettitte is a go for a simulated game Saturday at Yankee Stadium. ... Alex Rodriguez took BP and infield practice before the game. He did not speak to reporters, but Girardi said A-Rod "felt pretty good." ... The Blue Jays come in for a three-game series beginning Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Wonder-rookie Ivan (Super) Nova (1-0, 1.93) faces RHP Brandon Morrow (10-6, 4.27).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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