As CC Sabathia was mowing down Mariner after Mariner with machine-like efficiency, head groundskeeper Dan Cunningham was coming into Joe Girardi’s line of vision. That meant one thing — heavy rains were falling and there would soon be a delay.
That was about the only thing stopping Sabathia last night in a 4-1 win over the hapless Seattle Mariners, that and Brendan Ryan’s one-out single in the top of the seventh, which spoiled the best pitcher in the American League’s date with perfection against a team now mired in a club-record 17-game losing streak.
Instead, Sabathia settled for allowing one hit in seven-plus innings while establishing a career high with 14 strikeouts. His pitches were sharp most of the night except for after a second delay of 14 minutes that caused pitches to escape the strike zone and load the bases.
“After the first delay, I felt pretty good,” Sabathia said. “After the second delay, I lost my command and release point.”
“He could of,” Girardi said. “He was so sharp before the rain delay and then I thought his slider got a little bit bigger after the rain delay. I didn’t think he was quite as sharp and we’ll never know.”
Before the first delay began with one out in the sixth, Sabathia had struck out seven straight Mariners, one shy of the AL record. During that stretch, he threw 30 pitches, getting seven foul balls and seven swinging strikes.
“When you see he has fastball command and sliders – he’s going to do some damage,” catcher Francisco Cervelli said.
During the half hour delay, Sabathia spent the idle time staying loose and hanging around with card-playing teammates in the clubhouse, which is unlike other pitchers who get the silent treatment. Also unlike others working on no-hitters and perfect games, Sabathia said he knew since he was pitching from the stretch virtually all night.
“You know you have to pitch out of the stretch,” Sabathia said. “I knew from the first pitch to the last pitch – that’s the situation I’m in.”
After softly getting the final two outs of the sixth, Sabathia maintained perfection by getting Ichiro Suzuki for his 12th strikeout. Then he reached his first 2-0 count and on the next fastball, Ryan lined it cleanly into left field for Seattle’s first hit and first ball hit into the outfield since Ichiro lined out to center in the first.
It ended his longest stretch of perfection, surpassing the 17 straight he retired at Minnesota on Sept. 2, 2005.
“Without the delays, there was no doubt in my mind, he was going to get a no-hitter,” Eric Chavez said.
“He was going right after guys,” Mark Teixeira added. “He was as dominant as I’ve seen in a long time. That’s why I thought he had a really good chance.”
Sabathia continued mowing the Mariners down by getting Dustin Ackley for his 13th strikeout and setting a career high with his third strikeout of Miguel Olivo, who saw 12 pitches.
“That was about as good of stuff as I’ve seen him have,” said Seattle manager Eric Wedge, who had Sabathia in Cleveland. “He had a better fastball then we’ve seen him have at times. He’s always had a good fastball but at times, he was really consistent with it tonight. His secondary stuff was as good as we’ve seen it.”
A 14-minute delay halted play during the seventh inning stretch and when Sabathia returned for the eighth, he had his first three-ball count and second baserunner when Justin Smoak walked. David Robertson began warming up and Sabathia walked Franklin Guttierez on a full count.
Sabathia appeared to lose steam in the eighth as he walked Mike Carp on a full count, prompting Robertson to come in. As Sabathia walked off the mound, a scoreboard graphic saying “Notorious CC” appeared and the remainder of the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Robertson, otherwise known as “Mr. Bases Loaded” had struck out 10 straight with the bases loaded until Chone Figgins’ groundout scored the only run. He then worked out of first and second by striking out Ichiro a third time and then Mariano Rivera closed out a record-tying night of strikeouts by getting Olivo for the fourth time.
The Yankees didn’t do much of Doug Fister, who is 3-12 with the AL’s worst run support. They had a 3-0 lead through five and that was all they really needed on a night that showcased the best pitcher in the AL.
“He can throw every pitch, every time,” Cervelli said. “To me, he’s the best lefty in the AL.”
Eric Chavez returned after missing 2 ½ months with assorted injuries and manned third base. Under no circumstances does that mean he is the everyday third baseman while Alex Rodriguez is out. He was just there because Girardi felt Eduardo Nunez and his fast-paced style of play could use the day off.
Not only did Chavez break his foot, but he also suffered a setback with a kidney stone and a back injury.
Though he was hitting a more than respectable .303 when he injured himself in Detroit, Chavez thinks he actually could be doing better.
“I’m hoping that it’s better,” he said. “I thought I wasn’t driving the ball. I thought I would start driving the ball.”
Chavez successfully fielded two early ground balls and then had a fifth-inning RBI single in his first game action since May 5.
» Rafael Soriano could be activated today but that decision will come after he is done being re-evaluated.
» Mark Teixeira hit his 100th home run as a Yankee but really wanted the perfect game to happen. He was on the losing end of Mark Buehrle’s masterpiece in 2007 with the Texas Rangers and said he wants to cross being on the winning side off his baseball bucket list.
» Joe Torre took part in yesterday’s HOPE Week event along with Mariano Rivera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Cory Wade and Steve Garrison. The community outreach event was a surprise lunch with Tuesday’s Children, a Sept. 11 charity, at the Beekman Beach Club at the South Street Seaport.
Follow Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.