CLEVELAND — CC Sabathia only lasted 4 ¹/₃ innings Wednesday night, but he was good enough for the Yankees to win and get back to the ALCS for the first time in five years.
For four innings on Wednesday night, Sabathia was as dominant as ever and made Joe Girardi’s decision to go with the veteran over Sonny Gray for the biggest game of the season look brilliant.
In the Yankees’ series-clinching 5-2 victory over Cleveland, the 37-year-old looked like the pitcher who dominated the Orioles twice in the 2012 ALDS, his most recent postseason victories.
He retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out six, before Francisco Lindor singled to lead off the fourth. Sabathia had no trouble getting out of that inning, striking out two more and then fanning Carlos Santana to open the fifth with the Yankees leading 3-0.
“Again, that’s CC,” Girardi said. “That’s who he is. That’s been who he’s been his whole life: The guy you can count on. And he did it again tonight. This is a very good offense. Everyone wants to talk about their pitching and we were able to hold them in check for the most part.’’
But as has been the case sometimes with big lefty this season, he unraveled quickly in the fifth. After the strikeout of Santana, Sabathia allowed four straight hits.
Austin Jackson started it and went to third on a Jay Bruce single to right. Roberto Perez’s single to right scored Jackson and Giovanny Urshela followed by grounding one through the right side of the infield to knock in Bruce and make it 3-2.
And just like that, Sabathia’s outing was over after just 69 pitches.
His nine strikeouts matched a season-high, but they didn’t do him much good in the fifth. He left with runners on first and second. The bullpen, however, took care of the rest.
Robertson made quick work of Lindor, getting him to ground into an inning-ending double play and the reliever’s 2 ²/₃-inning performance helped make up for Sabathia’s sudden trouble.
Sabathia didn’t see any drama until Perez tried to bunt for a hit with one out in the third. The catcher popped up the bunt in front of the mound, where Sabathia dove awkwardly to make the play.
Sabathia, who reacted angrily when the Red Sox deployed a similar tactic earlier in the season, screaming at their bench — and former Yankee Eduardo Nunez — didn’t seem as bothered this time around.
After adjusting the brace on his right knee, Sabathia came back to strike out Urshela.
He pitched around Lindor’s leadoff single to left in the fourth before exiting in the fifth.
He’ll no doubt get a chance to start again against the Astros.
“He was a bulldog,” Aaron Judge said.