Witnessing the way Cliff Lee carved up the Yankees, it was difficult not to believe it. The chilled Bombers bats fell victim to a complete-game masterpiece as the Phillies' ace delivered a 6-1 victory in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia was stuck with two unfortunate pitches to Utley, who clubbed a pair of solo home runs before the Yankees' bullpen sent a sellout crowd streaming for the streets before the fans could watch Lee finish a 10-strikeout performance that came as no surprise to his former Tribe teammate.
"He's been pitching great all year, especially in the postseason," Sabathia said. "I tried to keep the game as close as possible, and we weren't able to do it."
Pitching on the biggest stage of his career and in front of an audience that included Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, Sabathia was not as sharp as he had been in his first three postseason starts, but the $161 million left-hander was still solid enough to win on most nights.
Not so on Wednesday, as Lee continued his dominance in the Bronx, adding a World Series victory to an accomplishment list that already included an All-Star Game start across the street and the first regular-season victory at the new Stadium.
"You've got to tip your hat to their guy," Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said of Lee. "That's probably the best pitching performance against us we've seen all year."
Setting off panic alarms with a lack of command early, Sabathia was able to escape in the first inning, inducing a groundout to leave the bases loaded. But the defending World Series champs would strike first in the 105th Fall Classic, as Utley touched Sabathia for the first home run he permitted to a left-handed batter at Yankee Stadium all season.
Legends of the fall
On the ninth pitch of a hard-fought third-inning at-bat, Sabathia tried to throw a full-count fastball down and away. Utley's eyes lit up when he saw the 95-mph heater instead hurtling down the middle of the plate, sending a high drive a few rows over the right-field wall.
"He left one kind of in the middle of the plate, and you can't miss those pitches against that type of pitcher," Utley said.
Nick Swisher climbed the fence in search of a chance to bring it back, but Utley left no doubt with his follow-up act. Sabathia left a fat 0-2 fastball down the pike in the sixth inning, and Utley punished him, driving what would prove to be the decisive blow into the grandstands in right-center.
"I wish I could stand here and say it was just two pitches, but I was behind pretty much the whole game," Sabathia said. "I was able to battle back and make some pitches when I needed to, but that's not at all how I've been pitching in the postseason."
The solo homers created a two-run lead that appeared imposing, considering how Lee had dominated the Yankees to that point. Usually, Sabathia feels confident that the Major Leagues' most potent lineup can white-out a pitch here or there. But Lee had made for uncomfortable at-bats all around, and there was a sinking feeling that it wasn't going to be easy this time.
"Cliff Lee has been tough on us this year -- we know that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I mean, he's pitching extremely well. But one thing is that he can't pitch every day."
Lee's confidence was fueled in an impressive fourth inning, when he struck out the three most dangerous right-handed batters in the Yankees' lineup, whiffing Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada swinging.
OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT
|Year||G1 winner||World champions|
|1992||Braves||Blue Jays, 4-2|
Even the balls in play weren't hit particularly hard. Lee also nonchalantly snagged a Johnny Damon popup in the sixth and rubbed it in by flagging a Robinson Cano bouncer behind his back in the eighth.
"You've got to go out there and think you're going to get everybody out and think you can," Lee said. "I definitely do that. I try not to go over the edge and rub things in and be cocky, but I definitely have confidence -- there's no doubt about it."
Lee made it look easy, and maybe it was -- his effort was just the third 10-strikeout, no-walk showing in World Series history, joining those by Deacon Phillippe in 1903 and Don Newcombe in '49.
"We know he's very good, and we like the way our guy is throwing the ball, too," Girardi said.
Philadelphia tacked on with Raul Ibanez's two-run single in the eighth inning, coming through against New York's jittery bullpen after Sabathia's exit. The Phillies added two more runs in the ninth, as Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard each recorded RBIs.
GRABBING THE REINS
|Year||Game 1 winner||World Champions|
|2008||Phillies||Phillies in 5|
|2007||Red Sox||Red Sox in 4|
|2006||Cardinals||Cardinals in 5|
|2005||White Sox||White Sox in 4|
|2004||Red Sox||Red Sox in 4|
|2003||Marlins||Marlins in 6|
|2002||Giants||Angels in 7|
|2001||Diamondbacks||Diamondbacks in 7|
|2000||Yankees||Yankees in 5|
|1999||Yankees||Yankees in 4|
|1998||Yankees||Yankees in 4|
|1997||Marlins||Marlins in 7|
|1996||Braves||Yankees in 6|
|1995||Braves||Braves in 6|
Captain Derek Jeter helped the Yankees avoid their first shutout in the history of World Series Game 1's, scoring on shortstop Jimmy Rollins' throwing error in the ninth inning, but it was window dressing at that point. The run moved Jeter past Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio into fifth place for most runs in World Series history.
"What it boils down to is they're the best team we've played all year," Jeter said. "They're in the World Series for a reason. That's no disrespect to any of the teams that we played, but they're the defending champs and they're a great team. What else can you say?"
The loss marked the Yankees' first in the Bronx during the 2009 postseason after they posted five combined victories at Yankee Stadium against the Twins and the Angels. Including the regular season, it was just the ninth loss at the new Yankee Stadium since the All-Star break.
That was little consolation to the Yankees, who did their best to shake off the defeat and speak positively about having plenty of Series left to play.
"It's Game 1, we lost -- no big deal," Swisher said. "We'll be ready tomorrow."
Yet after two series of nestling behind the driver's seat and putting the Twins and Angels into the more uncomfortable position, the Yankees are now forced to look to A.J. Burnett to get them back to even in Game 2.
"And we need him more than ever now," Sabathia said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.