10/17/09 1:45 AM ET
CC's Yanks take what Angels give them
Behind ace, opportunistic offense provides early ALCS edge
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Sabathia's seventh strikeout highlighted a show-stealing performance as the Yankees posted a 4-1 victory over the Angels on Friday, securing Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on a chilly night in the Bronx.
The $161 million ace scattered four hits in eight strong frames, whirling off the mound with his swinging punchout of pinch-hitter Mike Napoli in the seventh inning as a boisterous playoff audience of 49,688 rained cheers upon him.
"That was a great feeling," Sabathia said. "To have the Stadium rocking and chanting my name, and to be able to get a strikeout -- I was pretty pumped up. I don't really show a lot of emotion a lot of times, but it came out of me there."
Sabathia's powerful effort cleared the way as the Yankees took advantage of three Angels errors in an uncharacteristically sloppy defensive effort. Hideki Matsui had two RBIs for New York, which improved to 4-0 in the postseason after its three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins in the AL Division Series.
Though the Angels tagged Sabathia for nine earned runs in 13 1/3 innings in the regular season, the left-hander came up with a winning performance when it counted most. Sabathia was touched only for Kendry Morales' RBI single in the fourth inning, and he issued only one walk to keep the pesky Angels down.
"He pitched eight innings against this club, and to only give up one run, that's quite a performance, because this is a very offensive club," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And he kept the guys that can create problems off the bases all night. He was sensational."
Sabathia's powerful effort came on a night when all but one starting Yankees batter -- Alex Rodriguez -- opted to wear long sleeves, making facemasks and earflaps a wise fashion selection.
"It was about as cold as it gets," Sabathia said. "I pitched in a couple of games where it snowed in Cleveland, but it was pretty nasty today."
Yet the Angels wouldn't blame the mid-40s temperatures and raw atmosphere for their inability to hit against the sizzling Sabathia.
"CC was the cold weather," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He was pitching his butt off. CC's the real deal, man."
The Angels made just one error in a three-game AL Division Series sweep of the Red Sox, but it was an uncharged miscue that first proved costly.
Facing Angels starter John Lackey, Derek Jeter led off the first inning with a hit and moved to third on Johnny Damon's single, with an error charged to left fielder Juan Rivera on a poor throw that allowed Damon to advance.
A-Rod drove in the series' first run with a sacrifice fly, and Hideki Matsui lifted what should have been a simple inning-ending popup to the left side of the infield.
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Neither third baseman Chone Figgins nor shortstop Erick Aybar made a play on the ball and it landed safely, allowing Damon to score easily.
"We haven't seen our guys crack the door open for a team like we did tonight in a long time," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "The Yankees are going to take advantage of that, and they did."
"Any time you get a team to make mistakes, especially a good team like that, you want to capitalize on them," Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. "I guess the more mistakes, the better. You can't expect that to happen a lot. It probably won't happen again."
Busting a 1-for-12 slump from the ALDS, Damon opened the fifth with a double to left-center, and after a one-out walk to Rodriguez, he came home on Matsui's hit to left.
Running with his head down, A-Rod blew through a stop sign on the play and was tagged out by catcher Jeff Mathis in a hard collision. But the missed sign didn't hurt the Yankees, as Sabathia continued to cruise, prompting one veteran left-hander to take on an awestruck tone.
"I mean, he's able to dominate a game like you saw tonight, with strikeouts and keeping his pitch count down," Andy Pettitte said. "He threw  pitches through eight innings against not a good lineup, but a great lineup.
"He's a great starter, and that's all you can say. Even if they wanted to try to run, he slide-steps and makes quality pitches. He does everything that you would want a No. 1 starter to do. He can do it all."
Sabathia had some help from his friends, particularly in the sixth inning, when Damon made a tumbling catch of a sinking Bobby Abreu liner and Mark Teixeira executed a split on a Hunter tapper that Sabathia fielded swiftly.
The sterling effort continued, backed further when Melky Cabrera worked a two-out walk in the sixth facing Lackey and moved up on an errant pickoff throw. Jeter followed with a single to center field that skipped off Hunter's glove and went past him for the third error, giving the Yankees room to breathe.
"When he's pitching like this, you're not going to score many runs," Teixeira said of Sabathia. "We still wanted to score a bunch for him, but at the same time, once we got a two- or three-run lead, we knew CC was going to hold them down."
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth inning around a walk to close out Sabathia's second victory of the postseason and his third in a Game 1 start. He also won the opener of the 2007 AL Division Series against New York.
For the Yankees who remembered facing Sabathia that night in Cleveland, suffice it to say that on this bitter but sweet evening, they were thankful not to need to stand in.
"That's why we got CC," Damon said. "To be a workhorse during the season, of course, but to shut down teams in the postseason."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.