Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 29, 2012

C.C. Makes Sure It’s A Sunny Sunday In The Bronx

It was overcast when I arrived in the city late yesterday afternoon; but the clouds have dispersed beneath a rising Sunday sun. As I descend the stairs from the elevated subway platform at 161st Street in the Bronx the sky above is an endless arc of blue. It’s the second home stand of the still-young season, and for the third time this year I am joining the throng of thousands making their way into the Stadium, hoping to witness a victory by the Yankees.

It’s Yankees Stopwatch Day, and as one of the first 18,000 paying customers to pass through the gates I am handed a box containing a small battery-operated clock and stopwatch, with the interlocking NY logo on the front. When I return home it will go on a shelf with assorted other promotional trinkets of questionable utility and purpose that I have received in previous seasons. The official Yankees lunchbox, metal and shiny with a very nice clasp; but too small to actually carry a sandwich and a can of soda, remains my personal favorite. Speaking of lunch, with 45 minutes remaining until the 1:05 p.m. first pitch, I make my way to the main food court for something to eat. Here at the big park in the Bronx, as at its brethren stadia and arenas all around the country, the days of a choice between a burger and a dog are ancient history. While the traditional favorites can certainly still be found, I opt instead for some sushi, freshly rolled immediately after I place my order.

Finally it’s up the winding ramps to the third deck, and on to Section 315 where I take my usual seat, from which I look directly down at first base. It’s the rubber game of a three-game set between New York and Detroit, with the Yankees winning Friday night and the Tigers prevailing Saturday afternoon. Like all of my fellow fans I am hoping not just for a win, but urgently longing for a strong performance by our starting pitcher. In the halcyon days of Spring Training the starting rotation was thought to be a strength of this year’s team. When Andy Pettitte announced his decision to come out of retirement, it appeared there were seven legitimate candidates for five starting spots.

But Pettitte is still working his way into shape in a series of minor league starts, and once he is ready to rejoin the club it remains to be seen whether he will truly be the Andy of old or just an old Andy. Michael Pineda, the 23-year old who came over from Seattle in an off-season trade, arrived at training camp 20 pounds overweight. After a series of poor performances at camp he started the season on the DL with shoulder tendinitis. A few days ago he was found to have a torn shoulder ligament that will require surgery, sidelining him for a year.

Meanwhile in the current rotation Phil Hughes has been bad and Freddy Garcia has been awful. Just yesterday Garcia failed to make it out of the 2nd inning for the second straight outing. Already the team has announced that with an ERA over 12.00 the consecutive disasters have cost the 35-year old his spot in the rotation, which will be taken for the moment at least by the rookie David Phelps.

So a strong start today would provide some welcome relief both to we fans and to the overworked bullpen, which has had to pitch 16 1/3 of the 26 innings played over the last three games. The pitcher being asked to provide it is our ace, C. C. Sabathia. While he comes in with a 2-0 record, even he had a rough time in the first game of the season, so he still sports an ERA over 5.00. But he has pitched into the 8th inning in his last two starts, and as the big guy takes the mound we in the stands are hoping for something like that today.

On this last Sunday of April, to our unquestioned delight, C. C. delivers not just a strong start, but his best outing of the year. After striking out Austin Jackson to begin the contest, he surrenders a double to Brennan Boesch. But Sabathia then retires the next ten men he faces, half of them on strikeouts. By the time Prince Fielder breaks up the string by lining a homer into the second deck in right field with two outs in the 4th, the Tigers are playing from behind. In the bottom of the 2nd the Yankees score twice in a fashion that defies their “Bomber” nickname. With one out Raul Ibanez walks, then advances to second when Erick Chavez sends a ground ball single into right field. One out later Derek Jeter grounds a ball sharply to the left side. Detroit shortstop Ramon Santiago ranges to his right and is able to stop the ball from going into left field, but by the time he does so he has no play at any base, and Jeter has an infield single. With Curtis Granderson at the plate Detroit’s Max Scherzer commits the cardinal sin of walking a man with the bases loaded, forcing in a run. Alex Rodriguez follows with a slow roller down the third base line that Miguel Cabrera charges but can’t handle, and the Yankees lead 2-0.

In the bottom of the 4th inning Granderson answers Fielder’s home run with one of his own. His fly ball just makes it into the Yankees bullpen after center fielder Jackson leaps at the wall, has the ball in his glove for a split second but then can’t control it, and the Yankees again lead by two runs. The Tigers next hits off Sabathia come in the 6th, when a single by Boesch and a double by Cabrera again make it a one-run game. But Sabathia then retires eight of the last nine men he faces, the string marred only by a harmless walk to Danny Worth leading off the 8th. Meanwhile the Yankees have gotten some breathing room by scoring twice more in the bottom of the 7th, again in small-ball fashion. After back-up catcher Chris Stewart singles to left to open the inning, Jeter walks. Both runners advance on a Granderson sacrifice fly to deep center. With the infield in, Rodriguez hits a slow grounder to short. Santiago throws home but Stewart beats the tag with a perfect slide. Detroit catcher Gerald Laird and manager Jim Leyland argue, to no avail. We at the Stadium don’t know it, but a slow motion television replay shows that home plate umpire Rob Drake made the correct call. Robinson Cano then plates Jeter with a sacrifice fly to left, and the Yankees lead 5-2.

For a time it looked like Sabathia might be able to go the distance, but an 18-pitch 8th drives his pitch count up to 106. As he walks off the mound to cheers from the 43,000 of us in the seats, Mariano Rivera begins his stretching routine in the bullpen. But just as Mo has started to throw his bullpen warm-ups Andruw Jones leads off the bottom of the 8th with a long home run to left. A four run lead means it’s no longer a save situation, and in the bullpen Rivera is replaced by David Robertson. As the young flamethrower jogs in for the 9th, there is a sense in the stands that we are peering into the future. Mo has hinted strongly that this season will be his last. While one can’t really replace the all-time saves leader; Robertson, currently the Yankees set-up man, increasingly looks like a worthy successor. In nine innings pitched so far this season he has yet to surrender a run. It is a streak that actually extends over twenty-two innings going back to last September, and it will be extended further this afternoon. Robertson retires the Tigers in order, striking out the final two batters, as we in the stands are on our feet cheering him on.

With eight innings of two run ball and eight strikeouts, C. C. Sabathia has given the bullpen corps the break they needed. In the process he’s also lowered his ERA for the fourth consecutive outing, down to 4.58. Our closer-of-the-future has maintained his ERA at 0.00. With two more hits our captain, at age 37, has raised his batting average to .396. As I make my way back to the subway the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and it’s a fine day to be a Yankee fan.


  1. you wistful son of a gun

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