In recent Yankee playoff past they've started out with pitchers who either had the numbers of an ace but weren't (Chein-Ming Wang) or the stuff of an ace but didn't want to be (Mike Mussina). And while they've tried to groom youngsters (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain) bring back old friends (Andy Pettitte) and guys who suddenly became really old once October rolled around (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson) it seems as though they have truly found that ace in one CC Sabathia.
The "CC" of course could've meant Championship Caliber as far as the Bronx faithful were concerned Wednesday night. Sabathia hasn't looked this good in a playoff start since he was younger than those aforementioned studs in the bullpen as a 20 year old rookie for the Cleveland Indians in 2001 against the 116 win Seattle Mariners where he went six strong allowing just two runs on six hits with five strikeouts for the win.
Yet in this start CC's control was impeccable with a "David Wellsian" zero walks and eight K's over 6 2/3 against the Twins to christen the new Yankee Stadium with a playoff victory, his first since defeating his current team in 2007.
While Sabathia did get into some trouble in the third which saw Joe Mauer score on a passed ball, the MVP of October had something to say about that in the bottom half of the frame.
I suppose we call him Mr. .1000 now because that's what he's batting after Game One of the ALDS. After Melky Cabrera reached on an infield hit, as if on cue Derek Jeter smacked a two-run shot down the line in left to square the game at two. Jeter doesn't typically pull the ball to left when he homers, but that drive was historic for two reasons. Jeter tied Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for third on the all-time post-season home run list with 18, putting him only behind former teammate Bernie Williams (22) and Manny Ramirez (28). The home run also the first post season dinger to be clocked in the new Yankee Stadium.
The very next inning Nick Swisher hit a frozen rope double to left, scoring Robinson Cano all the way from first to pump up the crowd and put the Yankees up for good.
In the bottom of the fifth after Jeter recorded a walk and moved to second on a fielder's choice, the man who hit the last post-season HR in the old Yankee Stadium Alex Rodriguez picked up a clutch two out RBI single to center, increasing the Yankees lead to 5-2.
That chased Twins lefty starter Brian Duensing (the other left-hander wearing # 52) and brought on another young left-hander Francisco Liriano. Perhaps someone should've told Minnesota Manager Ron Gardenhire that Hideki Matsui homers off lefties pretty well too, with nearly half (13) of his 28 coming in the regular season against such pitching.
Hence Matsui whose first HR at the old Yankee Stadium came on a grand slam against the Twins and Joe Mays on Opening Day of 2003, oddly enough in the fifth inning, slammed a home run of the two run variety that bounced off the restaurant in center putting New York up 6-2.
From there Sabathia continued to roll before handing the ball off to Phil Hughes with two outs in the seventh. Hughes who ended up with the last Yankee playoff win at the old Stadium in relief, was absolutely dominant. Hughes struck out Orlando Cabrera who'd had two hits up to that point to retire the side.
In the bottom frame it was nearly the same formula as the fifth. Jeter walked and A-Rod knocked in Jeter from third with another two out smash to rightfield to tack on another run, 7-2 Yanks.
As the game moved along to the eighth the Yanks bullpen made short work of the Twins, really short work. After a Joe Mauer base knock, Hughes struck out Michael Cuddyer. Then Phil Coke was brought on to face Jason Kubel and needed only one pitch to get Kubel to line out to first. With two down Chamberlain came on and only needed two pitches himself to induce Delmon Young into an inning ending fielder's choice to short.
By the way how much do those three relievers make Chip Caray?
Legendary closer Mariano Rivera came in to get some work in the ninth picking up two strikeouts and of course he slammed the door on the Twins, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the 2009 ALDS.