HOUSTON — And so in a surprise season defined mostly by youth, Baby Bombers and all that, the Yankees once again turn to CC Sabathia, their 37-year old former ace who has somehow turned back the clock in 2017, to save them.
He held down the Indians long enough in Game 5 in Cleveland. He shut down the Astros in Game 3 of this ALCS in New York.
Does Sabathia have another clutch start in him, in a Game 7 with a shot at the World Series on the line?
After Luis Severino failed to close out this ALCS, as the Astros won 7-1 in Game 6, the Yankees say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He’s got presence, man,’’ Todd Frazier said after the game. “He’s going to come out and go after them, and you feel good about him out there. The older he’s gotten, the craftier he’s gotten.”
However he’s doing it, Sabathia is making it work in this postseason, especially the six shutout innings in Game 3 against these Astros.
Yet you also can’t ignore the obvious: so far this has played out like two different series, as each team has won its three home games.
With the season on the line, the Yankees turn to CC Sabathia.
The Yankees have scored a grand total of three runs in the three games here, so as much as they need a strong start from Sabathia, it’s even more vital that their bats awaken.
At least they won’t have to face Justin Verlander, who shut them down again on Friday night, going seven scoreless innings. In fact, Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch may have done them a favor by opting to start Charlie Morton in Game 7 rather than going with Lance McCullers Jr. on short rest.
The Yankees got to Morton early in Game 3 in New York, though they did get some breaks on soft-contact hits.
In fact, in announcing the decision, Hinch said of Morton: “He’s been one of the unluckiest pitchers in postseason. He’s not been hit hard.”
Still, McCullers dominated the Yankees for six innings in Game 4, and he can dominate any lineup when he’s on his game. Though the Yankees weren’t about to say it, I have to believe they’d rather face Morton.
The flip side is that McCullers will be ready in the bullpen, and that could be crucial as well, potentially shoring up the weak link on this Astros’ team.
Charlie Morton will start Game 7 for Houston.
(Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)
The Yankees, in fact, wanted this to be a bullpen series, as that is where they have the biggest advantage, but other than Games 4 and 5, they haven’t been able to get the starters out early enough to do much damage.
And now they may have lost some of that advantage for Game 7. Joe Girardi said Chad Green won’t be available, after throwing 38 pitches over 2.1 innings on Friday night, and so the big question will be whether the manager goes back to David Robertson, who got shelled in this game, giving up four hits without getting an out.
He only threw 12 pitches, so he’d surely be available on Saturday night, but considering that Robertson also hung a curve ball and gave up a bases-loaded double in Game 4, Girardi has to be leery of going back to him.
So that means Girardi might only have Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman for Game 7. Chapman is well-rested and almost certainly would be used for five or six outs if the Yankees are in position to win, but even then the Yankees are going to need Sabathia to get the game into the sixth inning.
In any case, the Yankees have lost all that momentum they’d built up in the three wins at home, when the Stadium atmosphere seemed to intimidate the Astros.
Now they have to prove they can dig deep yet again and find a way to win their fifth elimination game of this postseason.
Yankees vs. Astros 2017 American League Championship Series
At some point you have to wonder when the odds catch up with them. After all, they’re 0-3 here in this ballpark, and 1-5 on the road in this postseason.
Nevertheless, the victory was the one that counted most, Game 5 in Cleveland, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll wilt under the pressure now. They’ve played too well, especially when faced with season-ending pressure.
It didn’t have to come down to one last chance, of course. As good as Verlander was again, the Yankees had their chances when the game was still close, especially when the veteran righthander looked to be running on fumes in the sixth and seventh innings.
Gary Sanchez made the killer blunder, gearing up for a fastball on a 3-0 count with runners at first and second in the sixth, but then not having the discipline to lay off a slider, hitting a check-swing ground out.
And so it comes down to a Game 7. Do the Yankees have one more do-or-die win in them? The moment won’t be too big for Sabathia, you know that. As tough-minded as this team has been throughout October, I wouldn’t bet against them.