CC sets hype aside, dominates Dodgers

CC sets hype aside, dominates Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Even before the photographers clustered behind home plate to document an exchange of lineup cards between Joe Girardi and Joe Torre, Dodger Stadium had all the dressings of a date with much more on the line than your average June Interleague affair.

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Some looked up at the towels swirling around the seats of Chavez Ravine and wondered if the lights might be blaring a little brighter. Luckily for the Yankees, CC Sabathia wasn't one of them, hurling eight strong innings in New York's 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles on Friday.

"It's tough to compare it to the playoffs," Sabathia said. "It was a great atmosphere to pitch in, us coming in here and Joe on the other side. It was exciting, but it's hard for me to get caught up in that when I'm pitching. Maybe I'll be more excited tomorrow."

That was Sabathia's California cool. On a day that developed with the headlines of Torre vs. the Yankees, the hype seemed to taper off with the first pitch. After all of the requisite hugs and handshakes were offered, the classic rivalry settled back into good, sharp cross-country baseball.

Yet, it was Alex Rodriguez, who later claimed he "didn't see" Torre and the continuous procession of teammates flocking to him with lavish praise, who provided the boosts Sabathia and the Yankees needed.

Rodriguez's towering sixth-inning solo homer, the 593rd of his Major League career, turned out to be all the ace needed to improve to 5-0 in five June starts. Mariano Rivera locked down the ninth inning for his 17th save, striking out the side.

"You can't say enough about CC Sabathia and Mariano," said Rodriguez, who has said he relishes West Coast Interleague series like these. "It felt good out there. It felt like a playoff atmosphere out there."

So while Sabathia might have been nonplussed by the jazz in the stands, opining that the Yankees' games against the Red Sox, Mets and Rays in New York are just as charged, Rivera's entry provided a flourishing finish, pitting him against Manny Ramirez.

"It always happens. It never gets old," Rivera said. "That's the way it is when you're out there. You're always going to face the best. Those are the moments when you have to show up and do what you have to do."

Rivera not only struck out his old Boston foe -- "I thought he was on the other side of the world," Girardi said -- but then fanned Matt Kemp before James Loney looked at a called third strike, one that had a furious Torre barking at plate umpire Phil Cuzzi as he walked to the locker room.

"From my experience, Mo doesn't need any help," Torre said. "Some of those calls from Cuzzi were just terrible. I'm sorry the game had to end that way, because Loney never had a chance."

Just as Torre required no reminders of Rivera's greatness, neither did he need to speak with Rodriguez to know of his prowess. A-Rod helped New York to get on the board with a double to lead off the second inning against right-hander Vicente Padilla, scoring on Jorge Posada's one-out single.

The slugger then gave the Yankees the lead in the sixth by turning on a 94-mph fastball and depositing a no-doubt blast into the left-field bleachers.

"He's swinging the bat great right now and coming up with some big RBIs for us," Girardi said. "You just start to see that everything is starting to click."

It was the final blemish against Padilla, who scattered six hits in seven innings while periodically baffling the Yankees with his 52-mph floater.

Both benches were warned in the fifth inning when Sabathia hit Padilla in the left leg in what could have been retaliation for Padilla hitting Robinson Cano in the fourth. Sabathia got the next hitter, Rafael Furcal, to hit into an inning-ending double play.

"Theirs was on purpose, ours wasn't, but I understood what took place," said Torre. "You've got to protect your own. The umpire wanted to make sure he guarded against anything."

Girardi offered a shrugging dismissal after the game, saying, "I know that Padilla has hit a bunch of our guys. We're just playing a game, and we move on."

The Dodgers got their only run against Sabathia in the first inning, as Furcal walked, stole second and scored on Ramirez's run-scoring single to right field.

Sabathia floundered a touch in the second inning before finding himself, completing the eighth inning before ending his evening at 115 pitches, walking three and striking out seven.

"He threw strikes with all his pitches, and mixed in some breaking balls in there," Posada said. "The changeup was the key to that. We threw some fastballs in to lefties, threw some fastballs in to righties, but the changeup was outstanding today."

Sabathia has a 2.19 ERA this month, limiting opponents to a .191 batting average. If he is able to get on his usual midsummer roll and Rodriguez can keep driving the ball with authority, the Yankees should be on the right path to play in postseason games for real once more.

"I just want to go out there and help the team win," Sabathia said. "It feels good to be able to do that."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.