There was a case in point on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. Looking at the Interleague matchup of two genuine aces, the available evidence seemed to favor Roy Halladay of the Phillies over Sabathia of the Yankees.
Then again, the available evidence from the early returns of the 2010 season would probably favor Halladay over any pitcher this side of the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez. But as telling as the numbers can be, there can be more to the story. In a big, prominent, important, heavily hyped game, you can now feel reasonably secure taking Sabathia, regardless of the stats, the competition, the alignment of the planets -- whatever.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
It actually turned out to be a mismatch at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, with Halladay suffering through a performance that was somewhere between improbable and unthinkable. He came to this game with a 1.96 ERA. Just 16 days prior, he had pitched a perfect game. His career record against the Yankees was truly impressive -- 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA.
New York could not have been desperately upset when Toronto traded Halladay one league away to Philadelphia. Halladay's biggest recent problem was that the Phillies were not scoring enough runs for him. In his four losses, the club had scored a total of five runs. In the right-hander's past five starts, the Phillies had scored only eight runs.
Sabathia's 2010 ERA was 4.01 coming into Tuesday's game, and while his 6-3 record was presentable, the fact was that he was 4-0 against the Baltimore Orioles, baseball's worst team, and 2-3 against the rest of the world this year.
This had not been particularly ace-like work for Sabathia. But on Tuesday night with the Interleague matchup offering all of the attendant hype about the rematch of the 2009 World Series, not to mention the built-in interest in the ace-of-aces pitching matchup, Sabathia and his team emerged victorious, 8-3.
This was not a commanding performance overall by either pitcher, but Sabathia at least went beyond the modest "quality start" standard. And his performance was indisputably good enough to let his team win. Halladay was tagged for five earned runs in the first two innings. He settled in somewhat after that but still gave up six runs over six innings and tied his career high for home runs allowed with three.
Of the nine instances Halladay has given up three homers in a game, four have come against the Yankees, including the past three.
Sabathia started with three brilliant no-hit innings in which he struck out six. Then, leading off the fourth, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hit a ground ball that caromed off Sabathia's left hand. The next four batters all reached against Sabathia, and three runs scored in the inning. After that inning, Sabathia did not return to his earlier domination of the game, but he did pitch three more innings of shutout ball and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.
The normal supposition would be that Sabathia was affected by the hand, but support for that contention was not available from any of the principal parties.
"The first three innings, he was as sharp as we've seen him this year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia. "Then he gets hit in the hand. I always wonder how that affects a guy. I can't tell you, and you probably won't get that out of him, either."
Good call, Mr. G. When asked if being struck in the hand by the batted baseball had affected him, Sabathia replied: "No, it didn't affect me at all. I've got no swelling or anything like that. It should be fine."
Sabathia did acknowledge that the Philadelphia lineup was a substantial challenge for a pitcher. Even though the Phillies are in a substantial offensive slump, they cannot be confused with perhaps, you know, the Orioles.
Sabathia did not want to make much out of going up against Halladay, but he did allow that "it feels good to get a win against a good team."
The Yankees have won 15 of their past 20 games. They have climbed back into a tie atop the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays. They pounded on Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, even without their full, regular lineup.
And on Tuesday night, when aces collided, it was their No. 1 guy, CC Sabathia, who made possible another Yankees victory. All of these developments have been encouraging for the Yankees, but Sabathia bettering Halladay is not only encouraging, it provides a taste of big games to come.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.