TORONTO - CC Sabathia and the Toronto Blue Jays are going to see a whole lot of each other over the next seven years. On Thursday the big left-hander demonstrated just how formidable a challenge facing him is going to be.
The US$161-million man threw eight strong innings to outduel Brian Tallet and was rewarded for his efforts when Hideki Matsui opened the eighth with a go-ahead solo shot that carried the New York Yankees to a 3-2 victory.
Signed as a free agent during the winter to be the ace sorely lacked in the Bronx the past few seasons, Sabathia (3-3) delivered an effort befitting a No. 1, particularly in the seventh, when he escaped a first-and-third, one-out jam.
Scott Rolen opened the frame with a double and moved to third on Kevin Millar's fly ball to deep centre. Sabathia intentionally walked Rod Barajas before striking out John McDonald on three pitches, and after a walk to Marco Scutaro, got Aaron Hill on a fielder's choice to keep things tied.
"He's a good pitcher," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. "We hung in there as long as we could."
Matsui's blast on a 2-2 offering from reliever Jesse Carlson (0-2) came immediately afterwards, stunning an enthusiastic and aggressively anti-Yankee crowd of 22,667 while sending the Blue Jays (23-14) to a loss in the rubber match of the three-game set with the Yankees (17-17).
Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth for his seventh save.
"That's the inning that won the game for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia's escape act in the seventh.
Things could have turned out differently for the Blue Jays, as Tallet took a 2-1 lead into the seventh that unravelled after Brett Gardner opened the inning with a walk. Francisco Cervelli followed with a hit-and-run single through the hole at shortstop, opening the door to a rally.
Jason Frasor inherited the first-and-third mess and Derek Jeter tied the game with a bloop single just over the McDonald's glove at second. Frasor came back to get Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to escape the jam.
"I was disappointed in myself," Tallet said of the walk to Gardner. "I got the guy out two times, what am I doing walking him? In that situation you've got to make (him) hit the ball and let your defence play behind you. I didn't and the end result ended up being a run. ...
"That's something that I'm better than. Next time, we're not going to make that same mistake."
The Blue Jays built their lead on a solo shot by Alex Rios in the fourth and an RBI double by Rod Barajas in the fifth. Their hopes for more damage that inning were quashed when Gardner threw out Barajas at home as he tried to score on McDonald's single up the middle.
Sabathia otherwise had little trouble working through the lineup, and for a while it looked like he'd make an early 1-0 lead stand up.
"He was locating his fastball really well," said Scutaro. "He was throwing changeups and sliders, when he's on like that it's tough to hit him."
The Yankees scored that run in the first, when Tallet walked the bases loaded after a Johnny Damon double and then forced in a run on another base on balls to Nick Swisher.
Tallet allowed two runs on four hits and five walks in his six innings, while Sabathia, coming off a four-hit shutout in his up-and-down start to the season, gave up five hits and four walks over his eight innings.
"Except for us not winning the game, it was a pretty good game," said Gaston. "(Tallet) gives up a couple of runs against Sabathia and you figure you might have a chance to win that game. But we didn't. We move on."
There was a scary moment in the fourth, when Vernon Wells was sawed off at the hands on a grounder to third base and the barrel of his bat struck a fan above the Blue Jays dugout.
He was escorted from his seat with a towel covering an apparent cut on the back of his neck, but later returned to his seat.
Notes: The Blue Jays activated B.J. Ryan from the DL after the game and optioned lefty Bill Murphy to triple-A Syracuse. ... Toronto's starting rotation appears set to remain as is through the weekend, with rookies Brett Cecil (1-0, 0.64) scheduled to go in Friday's series opener against the Chicago White Sox and Robert Ray (0-1, 6.00) slated for Saturday. GM J.P. Ricciardi was vague when asked about the pending return of starters Casey Janssen and Ricky Romero. Janssen? "Soon." Romero? "Not as soon." ... Former Blue Jays starter Josh Towers, who began the season in the Washington Nationals farm system, recently joined the Yankees' triple-A affiliate Scranton-Wilkes Barre. He gave up two solo shots over 4 1-3 innings in his first start Monday. ... Buffalo Bills QB Trent Edwards and WR Lee Evans took BP before the game and appeared in numerous promos on the videoboard. One triggered an "Argoooos" chant. ... Excellent heckle during McDonald's at-bat in the fifth: "Johnny be proud, you've got the same numbers as Teixeira."