Yankees' ace Sabathia was good, but Phillies' Utley was better

Yankees' Game 1 starter CC Sabathia wipes his brow while working in sixth inning.
Yankees' Game 1 starter CC Sabathia wipes his brow while working in sixth inning.
Posted: October 29, 2009

NEW YORK - This was not the CC the Phillies owned last year.

This was not CC Sabathia, pitching on 3 days' of rest for the third straight game.

This was not CC exhausted, ridden hard, put up wet by the Brewers.

This was not CC pitching for a contract.

This was CC pitching to a contract, a deal worth $161 million over 7 years, this being the first year.

This was the Yankee gem, the biggest reason, said Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees ran away with the American League East, then swept the Twins, then beat the Angels in six games.

This was an ace in Game 1 of the World Series in baseball's newest, costliest castle, for sport's biggest, winningest franchise against the most dangerous offense in a decade.

This was seven solid innings, four measly hits, three harmless walks, six strikeouts.

On a chilly, wet night, this was 113 pitches, 70 of them strikes, all of them crisp.

Two of which he wishes he could have back.

Chase Utley homered twice.

"The first one, he had a good at-bat," Sabathia said. "The second one, it was a fastball. Right down the middle."

Those two runs were all of the damage in the biggest start of Sabathia's career. This was the start where he proves his worth, where he starts painting the trim on what could be a remarkable legacy.

The Yankees lost, 6-1. Sabathia lost, 2-0.

The last time Sabathia, a breathing contradiction - imposing but affable, lefthanded but powerful - had a chance to paint against the Phillies in the postseason, things went much worse.

In 2008, in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against Milwaukee, after consecutive one-out doubles tied the game at 1-1 in the second inning, a two-out, nine-pitch walk to pitcher Brett Myers caused Sabathia's collapse. He gave up another walk, and Shane Victorino hit a grand slam.

Sabathia, pitching on 3 days' rest, remained in the game through two outs in the fourth, when he reloaded the bases and finally left, heroic, but beaten.

There was none of that flavor last night. He pitched on 7 days' rest.

And he was good. Utley was better.

In the first inning, Utley had worked back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk. He was seeing Sabathia well.

It was 1-2 again in the fourth then 2-2, then, three foul balls and a ball-three later, bang.

"I was trying to put him away," said Sabathia, who fed Utley sliders that he spoiled until Utley reached for the fastball that flew. "He fouled off a lot of pitches."

It was more sudden and less expected in the sixth, when Utley took two sizzlers, fouled off a third, and, 0-2, cranked the second homer.

Sabathia threw up his hands as if to say, "Come on."

"I tried to go in," Sabathia said. "I missed."

Sabathia refused to credit himself. He agonized over the walks, the deep counts, falling behind.

He vowed he would be ready for Game 4 on 3 days' rest, if necessary: "I'll be ready to pitch whenever they need me."

They'll be pleased if he pitches as well.

"I thought CC grinded it out tonight," said manager Joe Girardi, who declined to commit to Sabathia for Game 4. He did, however, indicate that Sabathia was physically able to do it if necessary.

"He pitched good enough to win," said teammate Alex Rodriguez.

That wasn't true the last time. It wasn't the first time Utley hurt Sabathia.

In that Game 2 last October, Sabathia struck out Utley twice. Those two Ks ran Utley's career numbers against him to 0-for-5.

But Utley's walk was the at-bat that ended Sabathia's night.

Which, going forward a year, changed things.

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