What happened to one-time ace CC?

Posted by soaote on September 22nd, 2013


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It's not enough to say the Yankees were beaten, 5-1, by the Red Sox on Saturday and CC Sabathia was the losing pitcher. They were crushed, overmatched and otherwise forced to acknowledge the huge talent gap the Sox currently enjoy over the Bombers. And Sabathia? He was cooked by the second inning, on the way to his 13th loss, a career-worst.

There are theories everywhere about Sabathia's steep decline in 2013, including his weight (too light), his workload (too much) and his elbow (too tender, although the Yankees insist he's healthy). Pick any reason and the conclusion still is depressingly similar: Without Sabathia prevailing in a must-win setting like Saturday, the Yankees' season will be over in another 13 games.

Sabathia can't explain the regression, only that he's been killing the Bombers over his last 12 starts. During that span of 71 innings, the left-hander has allowed 59 runs and has been punished to the tune of a. 307 average. That's not just a slump, it's a full-blown collapse.

"I've always been a guy who said, 'Bend, but don't break. ' I've been breaking a lot this year, " Sabathia said quietly. It happened over and over Saturday, especially after the first inning when the Red Sox were retired one-two-three. From that point on, Sabathia's fastball was hunted down and brutally attacked, as 13 of the next 27 batters reached base.

Take your pick as to which of Sabathia's confrontations cost the Yankees most dearly: David Ortiz's RBI double to left in the third inning (off a 91-mph two-seamer) gave Boston a 2-0 lead. Johnny Gomes' sharp single (93-mph four-seamer) made it 3-0 in the same inning. But our vote goes to the failed at-bat against Shane Victorino in the fourth, when, with a runner on third and two out, Sabathia absolutely, unconditionally needed to keep the Sox from scoring again.

That's because the Yankees were having no luck with Jon Lester, who was on his way to an eight-inning, three-hit, one-run jewel of an afternoon. Sabathia was down by two runs and surely sensed the Sox would never give up the lead with a fourth run on the board. So Sabathia worked Victorino carefully, starting him with a change-up over the outside corner, then wisely avoiding the fastball. Instead, Sabathia overthrew a slider — leaving it in the middle of the plate, a virtual neon sign attached to it that said "hit me. "

Victorino did just that, lining an angry single to center that gave Boston a 4-1 lead. And really, that was the Yankees' last gasp for the afternoon. Not that the odds weren't already against them. Joe Girardi was forced into yet another makeshift lineup 40 minutes before game time after learning Alfonso Soriano had a jammed thumb.

Girardi declined to say the Yankees were operating on too few cylinders to beat the Sox, but let's face it: Losing Soriano and Brett Gardner in the span of two days meant the Bombers were desperate for Sabathia to assume to the role of savior.

But every time he takes the mound, Sabathia looks as though he's been captured by some shape-shifter who happens to look like him. That once-proud fastball? It's down to an average of 91 mph, the slowest and most vulnerable of Sabathia's career. The penchant for destroying hitters? Forget it, the American League has cracked the code. Sabathia has allowed more earned runs than anyone in the AL while allowing a career-worst 28 home runs.

One talent evaluator senses Sabathia's problems are born in panic — trying too hard to generate arm speed in order to re-create the fastball (and slider) of old. But that's a recipe for disaster, or at least for location. It's impossible to live on the black when you're obsessed with velocity. The release point always suffers.

"I wonder if (Sabathia) is sneaking peeks at the (ballpark's) radar reading to see how hard he's throwing, " the scout said. The Yankees are trying not to dwell on Sabathia's inner demons; they're consumed with the here and now.

Sabathia has three more starts, and even though Girardi says, "It's always more than just one guy, " nothing demoralizes a team more than when its ace is consistently thrashed.

Sabathia knows how much the Yankees need him between now and Sept. 29. Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the team's catchers tell Sabathia he's close to ending his slump, although the big man says, "I'm tired of hearing that. I want results. I know the team wants results. "

Sabathia paused, exhaling slowly. "It's time for me to put it together and have a good game, " he said. Unfortunately for the Yankees, that's not a prediction, but merely a last-minute prayer.


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