Sabathia keeps Yankees close, but offense falters

In scratching back into the playoff chase during the last week, the New York Yankees put a heavy bur
Baltimore Orioles right fielder Steve Pearce hits a solo home run in the sixth inning of Sunday's game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Baltimore Orioles right fielder Steve Pearce hits a solo home run in the sixth inning of Sunday's game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

In scratching back into the playoff chase during the last week, the New York Yankees put a heavy burden on the young and talented players now populating their roster. The team still has veterans with large profiles and larger salaries, but it has been youth that often carried the day.

On Sunday, though, it was CC Sabathia, 36 and in his 16th major league season, who performed the dutiful work for the Yankees. He pitched 6 2/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles, subduing for most of the game the fourth-highest scoring offense in the American League.

When he walked back to the Yankee Stadium dugout midway through the seventh inning, fluttering his glove in his right hand as he prepared to bounce down the steps and disappear into the clubhouse, the crowd applauded his performance, even if it had been in vain.

The Yankees lost, 5-0, falling short of a three-game sweep of the Orioles and giving back a game to the team that now leads them by 3 1/2 games for the final wild-card spot.

The defeat added a sour coda to what had otherwise been a good weekend for the Yankees.

They had come home for three games between six-game trips, and on Friday and Saturday they thrashed Baltimore’s faltering pitching, thanks in part to rookie catcher Gary Sanchez, who again homered in consecutive games.

But Sunday, the Yankees were the ones with little offensive zest, and their four-game winning streak ended.

“It’s not what you want, but we’re playing good baseball and we’re winning series, and that’s what we need to continue to do,” manager Joe Girardi said. “If someone says you’re going to win a series against Baltimore, I think you’re going to be pretty positive. But when we win the first two, I think sometimes guys can get down a little bit. I’m not down. I thought we played very well this weekend, and we need to continue to do. I’ll take our chances.”

Orioles starter Kevin Gausman thwarted the Yankees for seven shutout innings, striking out nine, while giving up seven hits and dancing around trouble.

He kept Sanchez relatively quiet, too. Sanchez, the designated hitter Sunday, went without a home run for the first time in four games, but he had a single and a double in four at-bats. It was just the fourth time in 11 games that he did not homer.

Still, the Yankees kept it close because of Sabathia.

Age and wear had gotten the better of Sabathia (8-11) over the summer, turning a solid start to the year into another season of middling results and an inflated ERA. But he held the Mariners to a run in seven innings in his previous start, and on Sunday he looked strong again, keeping a lineup of sluggers quiet except for a solo home run by Steve Pearce. He struck out eight batters and allowed six hits.

But the seventh inning became a fault line, for Sabathia and the Yankees. Sabathia loaded the bases with his 99th and final pitch, walking Hyun Soo Kim, the ninth hitter in the order. Girardi came to lift him, but the Yankees were already slowly capsizing. When Pearce humbled them once more, lining a two-run single to center field off reliever Adam Warren, the game became an opportunity wasted.

“It’s just the way it’s been going,” Sabathia said.

Despite the defeat, the Yankees have been able to work their way near enough to the Orioles to have the postseason in sight. They have heightened the worth of the final five weeks of the season.

The young players the Yankees called up over this month now have a chance to perform in a crucible, rather than play tedious September games for a team out of contention. This, Girardi said, has turned into an unexpected advantage.

“I think it’s very valuable because they’re games that, in a sense, have pressure,” he said. “It’s not a game where you can say, ‘Oh, it’s another game.’ It’s not that way. I think the meaning of the game, you get a better evaluation of players and that’s important.”

Those players showed their growing pains Sunday.

Aaron Judge went hitless, continuing his cold streak. Since homering in the first two games of his career, he has spent the next 11 spiraling down. He has struck out 19 times in 43 at-bats and did so twice against Gausman.

Even Sanchez made a mistake. In the fourth inning, with Orioles third baseman Manny Machado shifted from his usual alignment, Sanchez thought he could advance to third on a single by Mark Teixeira. But Pearce’s throw from right field still caught him, and the Yankees did not score despite having three hits in the inning.

“It’s an aggressive play,” Girardi said. “We’ve been playing aggressive. That time it caught up to us.”

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