The Yankees were determined to pick up CC Sabathia, and it was not easy. That has nothing to do with his girth, or his sagging confidence lately. "Pick him up" is an old baseball phrase that means compensating for a teammate's rough time.
They could not have done it any better. When Sabathia put the Yankees in a hole, the bats immediately put the team back on top. It turned out to be an uplifting night all around for the Yankees, who beat the Orioles, 8-5, at Yankee Stadium and moved within a half-game of Baltimore in a race of wild-card long shots.
"We have the guys in here who know what's at stake and what we're trying to do," said Sabathia, who was afforded the luxury of applause when he left the game with two outs in the sixth despite having allowed his fifth run.
Conventional wisdom has been that the Yankees simply cannot make the postseason if Sabathia pitches the way he has been. Not much changed Friday night despite the fact that Sabathia and Joe Girardi both thought he threw the ball pretty well. With due respect to Sabathia's judgment, he was more lucky than good for a team that needs to be both.
Sabathia (12-11) was fortunate that Alfonso Soriano hit his 29th home run of the season (his 12th as a Yankee to go with 35 RBIs in 32 games), wiping out a 1-0 deficit. He was luckier still that after he allowed three runs in the top of the fifth (including a two-run homer by Danny Valencia), Ichiro Suzuki hit his first home run after a drought of 131 at-bats in the midst of a five-run burst in the bottom of the inning.
It was one of a staggering four straight extra-base hits in a span of five pitches against Miguel Gonzalez (8-7): doubles by Curtis Granderson and Mark Reynolds, Ichiro's two-run homer and a double by Austin Romine. Robinson Cano added a two-run single off T.J. McFarland.
"Unbelievable. That's what I always talk about; try to keep these guys in the game and we've got a good chance of winning," Sabathia said. "I was barely hanging in there, but these guys came up with a bunch of runs."
It says everything about his long summer that, looking back from the perspective of Labor Day weekend, Sabathia's last really solid win came on the eve of July 4. Since then, it has been mystifyingly frustrating for him.
"Everybody needs a pat on the back once in a while," Girardi said. "That's life. There are ups and downs. In our game, there are a lot of ups and downs. CC has always been a very approachable guy."
This year, he also has been a very hittable guy, which is why he realized he could not be upset when Girardi removed him with one in, one on and two out in the sixth. "The way I've been pitching," he said, "I don't deserve a longer leash right now. I have to prove myself."
The Yankees have proved they can produce. They are 31-0 at home when they have led by at least two runs and are 23-1 when they have scored seven or more, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Soriano, according to Girardi, "is playing like an MVP." And Reynolds, a righty batter who started against a righty pitcher because of Girardi's hunch, went 3-for-4 with two doubles against his former team. "Putting on the pinstripes, it's just a different feeling," he said. "A lot of guys tell me I look a lot slimmer, too."
Plus Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera (39th save) finished up with 31/3 scoreless innings.
In any case, it was a big fat win to start a vital 10-game homestand. "CC didn't have his best stuff tonight, but he battled through it for us. We were able to pick him up," Reynolds said. "I'm sure he has picked us up plenty of times through the years."