CC Sabathia appeared to be on his way to a no-hitter. Instead, he struggled in the latter part of his afternoon but wound up completing what he started.
Sabathia retired the first 14 hitters he faced and then gave up seven hits to the next 13 hitters in Wednesday’s 6-4 victory over the Indians.
Sabathia allowed four runs and seven hits. He struck out nine, issued one walk while pitching his 36th career complete game and 10th as a Yankee.
The Yankees had Adam Warren warming up in the eighth and Mariano Rivera throwing in the ninth, but neither pitcher’s presence was necessary. Sabathia needed 14 pitches to finish up the ninth and ended it by retiring Michael Brantley on a groundout to second base.
“Those guys have bailed me out a lot this year and the strength of our team is the bullpen,” Sabathia said. “So to be able to give these guys a rest and have them fresh is big.”
The path he took to the end of his 116-pitch outing was almost a complete contrast to the opening 4 2/3 innings.
Sabathia threw 56 pitches before Mike Aviles dropped a first-pitch curveball in front of left fielder Vernon Wells. A chance for his second career one-hitter ended with three successive singles by Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis in the sixth.
“It was too early,” Sabathia said. “I was still trying to get a feel for the game and trying to make pitches. I hadn’t even realized it until after he got the hit.”
Sabathia joked afterward he realized he hadn’t surrendered a hit yet when he saw the crowd applauding and he knew the stands were not full of Cleveland fans. But the hit only increased his focus on completing things before the team boarded a six-hour flight to Seattle for the opener of an 11-game West Coast trip on Thursday night.
“It’s a little early [in the game],” catcher Chris Stewart said. “At that point, I’m trying to get him deep in the ballgame. Our bullpen has been kind of taxed. I thought [complete game] at that point but if he can get a no-hitter or a perfect game, great, but you’re not really trying to keep it going. You’re trying to prevent runs.”
With hit shutout bid ended on the Kipnis single and his one-hit bid ended, Sabathia was looking for his 20th career start of four hits or less. Instead, Carlos Santana led off the seventh with a hit before getting thrown out on a double play.
Sabathia allowed a two-run home run to Yan Gomes on a first-pitch slider after the double play. Sabathia did not allow any more hits and did finished his outing by getting Mark Reynolds to fly out on a 92-mph fastball.
"He's a guy who can get on a roll," manager Joe Girardi said. "I look at the first couple of runs he gave up — they hit some well-placed balls. You give them some credit. They didn't hit them hard, but they didn't swing and miss, and they put them in play and ended up with some hits. But he didn't give a hard-hit ball up until the seventh inning, and that's pretty good."
By the time Sabathia’s flirtation with potential history concluded, he had a 6-0 lead after just two innings. The bulk of the runs came on a two-run home run by Travis Hafner set up by a misplay from Bourn in center field in the first and a three-run shot by Brett Gardner with one out in the second.
But despite the offense, besides reaction to the latest news involving performance-enhancing drugs and Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia’s complete game was the key topic in the Yankee clubhouse.
“It’s kind of funny, when you need someone to do that, he’s stepped up,” Gardner said.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.