Last night was also huge for both CC and A-Rod. I was a little concerned after the egg he laid in Tampa Bay looking for win number 20, but Sabathia stepped up last night, getting some big outs, striking out 8 and allowing hardly any solid contact. He needed 113 pitches to get through 6 2/3, but he kept the Twins offense, which been so hot of late, at bay under very tough conditions.
A-Rod's not one but two hits with runners in scoring position broke a massive postseason drought spanning all the way back to Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. He was hitting .143/.314/.214 with 1 RBI and two extra base hits in 70 plate appearances. In that span left 38 runners on base and was 0 for 27 with RISP. We don't give a whole lot of credence to the concept of clutch hitting around here, but it's undeniable that A-Rod wasn't just falling victim to bad luck.
If those 70 at bats had occurred in a row, there's no chance that his numbers would have been that bad. He would have kept swinging and worked out of it. But they spanned years and happened in small doses since the Yanks hadn't played in more than 5 postseason games in any season since then. The pressure began to build and he began to press, striking out in almost 1/3 of his at bats.
While it makes for a convenient tabloid story to talk about how Alex has some sort of a new-found focus since he admitted to using steroids, or is more comfortable in the clubhouse, the reality is that he's just too good of a hitter to slug .214 for very long, under any circumstances.
Arguably, or at least potentially the Yankees two most important players for this postseason, Sabathia and Rodriguez got off on the right foot last night. They've already cut themselves some slack, even if it's just in their own minds, so when A-Rod digs in on Friday night, the urgency of having to drive in a run will be gone. When Sabathia takes the hill next, whenever that might be, he won't have to prove that he can have a good outing in the postseason, because he already got that out of the way.
We can downplay the impact of pressure, but I think we can agree that those who perform well regardless of the level of pressure are the ones that don't change their approach. The feeling of urgency is unfamiliar to players who are constantly looking out for the long haul - that 162 game mega-marathon. The postseason might be a sprint, but the key is to keep running the same speed. Derek Jeter's OPS is almost exactly the same in the regular season as it is in the postseason (.847 & .850), yet he's perceived as a clutch god. The reality is that he's the same great player that he always is.
That's all the Yankees need right now. Not everyone can be Mariano Rivera and actually elevate their performance on the biggest stage. If Sabathia and A-Rod can just be their usual excellent selves, we'll be well on our way to a satisfying October.