11:54 PM EDT, May 31, 2013
— They didn't draw a walk in the three previous games, and that had happened only once since 1916. Already, staring at a five-game losing streak, the more reactionary of Yankee fans were looking for scapegoats to walk the plank.
And then there was the matter of CC Sabathia. The last time we saw him walk off the mound in Tampa Bay, after allowing a season-high seven runs, the big lefthander followed that walk with four frightening words: "I'm hurting the team."
So here came the Red Sox into the Bronx on a sweltering late May night that felt like early August. Here came the surprising Red Sox holding a two-game lead on the Yankees in the American League East. Here came Jon Lester with his lifetime 8-2 record against the Yankees in New York to face a team that suddenly couldn't score runs, suddenly couldn't beat anybody.
As the afternoon heat hit 92 and everyone in the Bronx wondered if Sabathia's ponderous fastball would be able to match that number, two matters seemed sure:
• If George Steinbrenner were still alive, the Bronx would be burning after the Yankees were swept by the Mets, especially after striking out eight more times [40-32] than they had hits in the four-game series and generating only seven runs.
• What seemed like a legitimate argument only 10 days ago — that that the Patchwork Yankees somehow were better than the Whole Yankees — seemed like an entirely laughable premise after the Patchwork Yankees were outscored 24-10 in losing five in a row and dropping seven of nine. That's why Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis were welcomed with open arms Friday. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez are still out, but the Yankees lineup finally was beginning to fill with some recognizable names. Or as general manager Brian Cashman told reporters the other day, "We appreciate what the 'B' Bombers have done, but we're looking forward to getting the 'A' team back."
So here came Youkilis and Teixeira off the disabled list and straight into the lineup, Youk hitting second at DH and Tex hitting cleanup and playing first base.
"The players in the locker room, they don't worry," Teixeira said before Sabathia and the Yankees had stifled the Red Sox 4-1 before 45,141. "There's not anybody in there who's saying, 'When's Tex coming back? When's Youk coming back?' But I think it's nice when we come in, we walk in the door and it's like, 'We have one more of our guys back, we have two more of our guys back,' Those five-game losing streaks, maybe they don't happen if we have our whole team."
Teixeira, who averaged 34 homers and 106 RBI the past four seasons, was making his 2013 debut after missing 53 games with a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist suffered in spring training preparing for the World Baseball Classic. Youkilis, who had played in only 17 games and was hitting .266, appeared in only one game since April 20 because of a sprained back.
"I don't think there's any pressure on me," Youkilis said. "I'm just one person. Collectively, we've got to get it done."
And there was a certain synergy, an undeniable collectiveness, for the Yankees on Friday. Teixeira was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Youkilis was 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the fifth to go with two strikeouts. Yet there was something to Youkilis battling to a full count in the first inning before striking out on a Lester cutter; there was something to Teixeira battling to a full count before walking to lead off the second and coming around to score.
This was a more patient Yankees team, one that drew four walks against Lester. And, hey, Teixeira and Youkilis do have a combined 1,544 walks in their careers.
"These two guys grind out at-bats," Girardi said. "That's what they do. Their impact is big. It changes our lineup when they're in there. It gives us a better balance. They allow us to break up some of our lefthanders and they know about hitting in the middle of the order."
Yes, the Yankees definitely seemed more whole. That happens when your kingpin lefty, who had been winless over five starts, pitches like a kingpin in allowing only one run over 7 1/3 innings for his first victory since April. It was only the fifth time in his career that Sabathia struck out 10 and walked no one, and the first since 2008. He got 60 percent of his strikeouts with his slider, either away from lefties or back door on righties. As Girardi said, he also hadn't seen a 94 mph fastball from him this year, that there was a lot of 92-93-94 where there mostly had been 89-90-91.
"I understand why people have some cause for concern," Girardi said, "But he's a guy who a lot of times when it warms up he gets on a roll. Tonight was really the first hot night he pitched in, and it was the best stuff we've seen from him. He had great location with his fastball."
It's funny. Before the game, Girardi seemed a little baffled by Sabathia, who was staring the possibility of a career-tying six-game winless streak in the face. (The previous times were back in 2002 and 2003.)
"Sometimes things just happen and as players you have to learn to deal with things and make adjustments," Girardi said. "Right now he's a pitcher in transition."
Afterward, the Yankees manager just shook smiled and said, "For whatever reason, it seems like when it gets hot, he gets better."
Sabathia, who had lost to Lester on Opening Day, was thrilled with his location. He said he hadn't really worked on anything mechanically since the last start. It was more mental. Unlike early in his career, he insists he doesn't pay attention to the radar gun. When he was young, he felt like he needed the big numbers to get batters out. Now he just wants to challenge people, go after swings, get his fastball in the strike zone.
"And after a tough week, getting swept by the Mets, it felt good to give the team a boost," Sabathia, now 5-4 with a 3.71 ERA. "For me, it was a matter of being aggressive and attacking guys. I feel a responsibility to put the team in a position to win every time out there."
Pitching well in the heat?
"It just kind of happens," Sabathia said.
So at least for a night, the heat takes the heat off Sabathia and the Yankees. And for one night it all made sense. To make room for Youkilis and Teixeira, the Yankees sent pitchers Ivan Nova and Vidal Nuno to Triple A Scranton. With Andy Pettitte coming back Monday, a position player will be demoted, but it won't be David Adams, who remained at third base Friday.
Teixeira and Youkilis, facing his former team, said all the right things. Tex said he promised the trainers he'd let them know if there was soreness and he needed a rest. Youkilis, who has had endured back problems throughout his career, said he has worked his body core back to a strong place. After a couple of rehab games in Double A Trenton, they sounded ready to go.
"We'll have to see how Tex is on a daily basis," Girardi said, when asked about Lyle Overbay's place on the roster. "I don't expect you can play him 12 days in a row."
Teixeira, 33, is a notoriously slow starter, hitting .238 in the first month over his career.
"If anyone has any tips, I'm up for tips," Teixeira said.
Maybe it's only a matter of heat, the kind the summer can bring, the kind a five-game losing streak in the Bronx can bring.
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