The matchup between Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia was billed as a regular-season high stakes duel between the aces.
From the Philadelphia standpoint it was a high card kind of night at the poker table and from the New York viewpoint, it was a royal flush type of evening.
The cards or pitches did not fall Halladay’s way last night and he allowed three home runs for the ninth time in 301 starts. That means it occurs once every 33 starts though it seems to happen more frequently against the Yankees, who have done it three times since last July 4.
The home runs by Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira were the difference last night as the Yankees claimed an 8-3 victory over the Phillies.
CC Sabathia contributed and won his first game against someone not named the Orioles since beating Texas in a rain-shortened game April 16. He turned in seven innings, allowing three runs and five hits while suffering from the commonly known affliction of the one bad inning.
“We've got a good offense," Sabathia said. "He has pitched well against us a lot in the past, but guys have been swinging the bat well. Alex (Rodriguez) is out, but Swish has picked up the slack. Curtis hit a big home run. We've got a pretty good team."
Even facing a pretty good team in his final five years in Toronto, Halladay rarely had bad innings and certainly not too often in his first two months with Philadelphia.
So what caused the unfavorable hand for Doc?
Leaving too many pitches over the plate definitely did not help, especially when the Yankees took the approach of see the ball and hit it. When the Yankees made those guesses they were correct, which explains how they scored six times off Halladay for the first time in a decade.
"Against a tough guy like that, all you're really doing is looking for a pitch in the middle of the plate," Swisher said. "We didn't swing at a lot of balls out of the zone today. I think that's a big key. If we can swing at balls on the plate, we do a pretty good job."
Doing a pretty good job is what the Yankees have been doing for the last three weeks. Since a 5-10 stretch in mid-May they are 15-5 and a season-high 18 games over .500 (41-23).
The first indication that things might be different against Halladay occurred in the second inning when Brett Gardner lined a 2-1 belt-level cutter that stayed over the plate into center field for a two-run triple.
“We’ve faced him a good bit. We know what to expect,” Gardner said. “He pounds the zone and tonight he left some pitches over the middle of the plate and we were able to take advantage of it.”
Gardner’s triple merely foreshadowed the next inning.
Granderson turned a 2-2 changeup that hung right at the knees into a second-deck home run and three batters later, Swisher saw another cutter that did not move and sent it to right field for a two-run blast and a 5-0 lead.
The capper was another flat cutter that Teixeira sent just inside the right field foul pole for a solo shot and left Halladay in a state of disbelief.
As for Sabathia, he forgot to get his bare hands out of the way in the fourth on consecutive hits by Chase Utley and Placido Polanco. While Sabathia did not use that as an excuse, it hardly seemed coincidental that the Phillies immediately scored three runs.
“The first three innings he was as sharp as we've seen him all year, and then he gets hit in the hand and I always wonder how that affects a guy,'' Girardi said. "I can tell him and tell him again, 'Keep your big mitts out of the way,' but it's instinctual and you wonder if that had something to do with it.''
Before that, Sabathia mowed through the Phillies but then after bare-handing those, he plunked Ryan Howard on a 1-2 fastball. Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez followed with RBI singles and then Sabathia made a mental miscue that allowed a third run when he did not cover first base on a sure double play grounder by Ben Francisco.
That was the extent of Sabathia’s bending. He gave up one more hit the rest of the night and won his third straight and showed a sign that this is the time of year when he heats up just like 2009 and 2008.
“I think it's getting a lot better,'' Sabathia said. “My bullpen sessions have been a lot better and I feel like I have better command of my pitches.''
And now the Yankees have better command over the opponents.