The Yankees had the postseason in mind when they gave Sabathia the largest contract of any pitcher, believing he would come through with big performances when it counted the most. The ace did not disappoint on Wednesday, pitching into the seventh inning as the Yankees defeated the Twins, 7-2, in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
"This is what you come here for -- to have a chance to win and pitching in the postseason, playing in October," said Sabathia, the first winning pitcher in a playoff game at the new Stadium. "It was electric tonight. It felt good. I had a lot of fun out there."
Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui hit two-run homers for the Yankees, who also received the benefit of run-scoring hits from Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher to take an early advantage in the best-of-five series against Minnesota, a club against whom New York was 7-0 in the regular season.
Trusting that his offense would arrive, Sabathia struck out eight and walked none in his sixth career postseason start. The left-hander exited after 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) and scattering eight hits before leaning on his efficient bullpen.
"That's what we envisioned when we signed him -- CC would be pitching in late October and November," said Joe Girardi, a winner in his first game as a postseason manager. "It was the reason we got him. We thought that he could lead this staff and be the ace of this staff, and that's what he has been for us."
THE 1-0 SERIESThe advantage of winning Game 1 of a Division Series is far more pronounced in the National League than in the American League since DS play began in 1995.
Records of teams going up 1-0:
- ALDS 14-14
- NLDS 25-3
- All DS 39-17
- All Series 153-84
Teams to come back from 1-0 in ALDS:
- 2006 Tigers (lost World Series)
- 2005 Angels (lost ALCS)
- 2004 Yankees (lost ALCS)
- 2003 Red Sox (lost ALCS)
- 2003 Yankees (lost World Series)
- 2002 Angels (won World Series)
- 2001 Yankees (lost World Series)
- 2001 Mariners (lost ALCS)
- 2000 Yankees (won World Series)
- 1999 Red Sox (lost ALCS)
- 1998 Indians (lost ALCS)
- 1997 Indians (lost World Series)
- 1996 Yankees (won World Series)
- 1995 Mariners (lost ALCS)
The Twins took the early lead with two runs in the third inning against Sabathia, as Michael Cuddyer followed two singles with an RBI hit. Sabathia had trouble ironing out sequences with Jorge Posada, crossed up for a second time as a passed ball ticked off the catcher's mitt with Joe Mauer sliding home safely.
The first miscue was on Posada, the second on Sabathia. But they found their rhythm in time to earn applause, as Sabathia clamped the damage there and kept the threatening Twins from bringing anyone further around. Sabathia had lost his past three playoff decisions for Cleveland and Milwaukee, but he was a winner on Wednesday.
"I was able to hold them down," Sabathia said. "It got a little sketchy there, I guess, in the third. But I was able to come back and put up zeroes like I have all year, and these guys have been scoring runs all year."
"It just seemed like he got tougher and tougher," said Twins outfielder Denard Span. "He got nasty. His slider started looking a little bit like his fastball coming out of his hand, and he was really deceiving. He had a game plan for us, and it worked."
Appropriately, Jeter drove in the Yankees' first postseason runs at the new Stadium, pulling a two-run homer into the left-field seats off Twins left-hander Brian Duensing to tie the game.
It was Jeter's 18th career postseason home run, tying him with Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for third on baseball's all-time list behind Manny Ramirez (28) and Bernie Williams (22). As Girardi said, it's just Jeter's time of year.
"We fell behind, and any time you're able to score some quick runs, my job is always to try to get on base before the other guys and score some runs," Jeter said. "Any time you can get two that quick, yeah, that woke up the stadium a bit."
Swisher gave the Yankees the lead off the rookie Duensing in the fourth with a bullet double down the left-field line, sending Robinson Cano sliding home. As the go-ahead run scored, Swisher stood on second base, pumping his fist and pointing his two index fingers toward the sky.
A-Rod gave the Yankees needed insurance in the fifth inning, lining a run-scoring single to left-center field to send home Jeter and chase Duensing to the showers. It was Rodriguez's first hit with runners in scoring position in a span of 19 postseason at-bats, dating back to Game 4 of the 2004 AL Championship Series.
"It was good -- it felt good," Rodriguez said. "It definitely felt good to contribute and get on the board."
Rodriguez added an RBI single in the seventh off Jon Rauch, further avenging his playoff demons and giving the Yankees optimism that the struggling superstar of old may finally be gone.
"Everyone wants to contribute," Girardi said. "I thought the key for us tonight was we got five RBIs with two outs. We got two from Alex, two from Matsui and one from Swish. Those are big hits."
Matsui opened the game up with a two-run homer off Francisco Liriano that landed in Monument Park, the designated hitter's seventh career postseason homer and his fourth in an ALDS.
Duensing allowed five runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, walking one and striking out three in his first career postseason start.
Phil Hughes recorded two outs before Phil Coke got the only batter he was assigned to face in the eighth, as first baseman Mark Teixeira made a nice stab on a Jason Kubel liner.
Joba Chamberlain was given a standing ovation as he came out to record the final out of the eighth inning before Mariano Rivera closed out the Twins in the ninth inning in front of a playoff-thirsty crowd that rocked a building whose every ounce of concrete was poured for games like these.
"It felt just like the old place," Jeter said. "I don't think it makes a difference with the venue. It's all about our fans. We have the same fans whether we're here or across the street."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.