It’s difficult to call CC Sabathia’s return to the mound after 11 months an abject failure, but it certainly wasn’t a success, either.
The Blue Jays scored four times against the big lefty in the second inning to seize a lead they would never relinquish, taking the series with a 6-3 win over the Yankees on Thursday night, another frigid evening at the Stadium. Sabathia allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits over 5.2 innings, but showed signs of life in his first start since May 10. He struck out eight and didn’t issue a walk, throwing 95 pitches without experiencing any problems with his surgically repaired right knee.
“A bad inning got away from us,” Sabathia said. “I wish I could have stopped the bleeding right there.”
Daniel Norris held the Yankees to three runs over 5.2 innings, two of them coming on homers by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Brett Cecil, demoted from the Toronto closer’s job following Wednesday night’s meltdown, threw a scoreless eighth. Twenty-year-old rookie Miguel Castro notched his first career save with a spotless ninth.
Sabathia came out and fired a perfect first inning, but the good feelings didn’t last into the second as he found himself in trouble quickly. Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson opened the inning with hits, then Danny Valencia reached on an infield single that glanced off Sabathia’s glove, turning what could have been a double-play ball into a bases-loaded, no-out situation.
“That could have changed the whole complexion of that inning,” Joe Girardi said.
Kevin Pillar singled in a run to put Toronto on the board, then back-to-back groundouts pushed the lead to 3-0. Jose Reyes added an RBI single to right to give the Blue Jays a 4-0 lead.
“He didn’t give up a lot of hard-hit balls,” Girardi said. “He gave up a lot of ground balls; they just found some holes. I’m not taking anything away from the Blue Jays, but I thought he threw the ball a lot better than what it looks like.”
The deficit felt enormous as the Yankees struggled at the plate for a third straight night. They wasted a second-and-third, no-out situation in the fourth as Norris pitched out of the jam. Teixeira hit a rocket at third baseman Donaldson, narrowly missing a two-run hit. Chase Headley struck out looking and Chris Young popped out, stranding the Yankees’ first two runners in scoring position.
“You look at the ball Tex hit, you can’t hit a ball any harder than that,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating, but it happens.”
Sabathia settled in after his bumpy second, retiring the side in order in the third and fourth while striking out five of the six batters. He had eight punchouts by the end of the fourth and allowed only an unearned run after the second inning.
“It’s something to build on,” Sabathia said. “No walks, not a lot of good contact. I think we threw the ball pretty good, it was just you know, bad luck.”
The Yankees finally scored in the fifth on Didi Gregorius’ one-out single to center that drove in John Ryan Murphy, but even that play ended poorly as Gregorius ventured too far past first base, getting thrown out before he could make it back.
A-Rod injected some life into the bundled-up crowd with a leadoff home run to left field against Norris in the sixth, his first longball since Sept. 20, 2013.
“I felt like I needed Google Maps or something to round the bases,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been a long, long time.”
The home run was No. 655 of A-Rod’s career, leaving him five behind Willie Mays on the all-time list. Rodriguez is set to collect a $ 6 million bonus when he ties Mays, though as the Daily News first reported in January, the Yankees may try to fight him on the bonus, which was a marketing arrangement tied to his 10-year, $ 275 million contract back in 2007.
One out later, Teixeira drilled a solo shot of his own to left, cutting the lead to 5-3. After Headley grounded out, Norris hit Young with a pitch, which led to rookie Roberto Osuna being called from the bullpen. Murphy welcomed him with a double to left field, putting the tying runs in scoring position with two out. Girardi sent Stephen Drew to pinch-hit for Gregorio Petit, but Osuna struck him out, preserving the lead.
The Yankees finished the night 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and ended up 3-for-21 in the series.
“That’s the difference in the game,” Girardi said. “To win games, you have to hit with runners on.”
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