Over the course of the regular season, Sabathia helped his campaign for the AL Cy Young Award by walking no more than three batters in any of his starts. In the opener of the ALDS in Cleveland, the Yankees exercised extreme patience against the left-hander, but not one of the half-dozen free passes Sabathia issued netted a run.
The most damaging juncture for the Yankees, who led the Major Leagues with a .290 average and .366 on-base percentage this season, came in the fifth inning, when Bobby Abreu doubled home a run to cut New York's deficit to 4-3. That put runners on second and third base with one out and Rodriguez standing in the batter's box.
With Sabathia's pitch count standing at 100, he opted to load the bases by intentionally walking Rodriguez, putting the fate of the inning in the hands of Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and designated hitter Hideki Matsui. Posada worked into a 3-0 count, leading Yankees manager Joe Torre to give the catcher the green light to swing.
"We've got C.C. right there -- 100 pitches," Torre said. "And we have a guy who's hitting .330 all year long [in Posada]. ... It was a pretty easy decision to do that."
Sabathia came inside with a 95-mph fastball, which Posada fouled off. Three pitches later, the catcher swung at another fastball up in the strike zone, missing for a crucial strikeout. Matsui followed by hacking at a 2-0 pitch, flying out innocently to shortstop Jhonny Peralta to end the inning.
"Probably the best pitch I got today was that 3-0 one," said Posada, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "I fouled it off, and then the pitches up in the zone were tough to lay off. They were kind of borderline up, and I tried to just put them in play and it just didn't happen."
It was a similar result as the first inning, when Sabathia issued consecutive one-out walks to Abreu and Rodriguez. Posada followed by striking out and Matsui grounded out to second base to halt the scoring chance. On the night, Posada and Matsui combined to go 0-for-8 with four strikeouts.
"I dont know about trying too hard," Torre said. "They've been down this road before. I think you have to give the Indians credit. For running the pitch count up on Sabathia, he obviously bent, but he didn't break."
When Indians manager Eric Wedge finally called it a night for Sabathia, the southpaw's pitch count had climbed to 114. Sabathia threw an average of 4.75 pitches to each Yankees hitter he faced, and he worked with at least one runner in each inning. Sabathia walked a batter in both the second and third innings, but the Yankees came up dry in each case.
Only part of the game plan was properly executed.
"We just couldn't get that key hit that they were getting all night," Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "We did a good job of getting, let's say 'A' and 'B,' but we just didn't finish it off with 'C.'
"[Sabathia] is one of the toughest competitors in the game, and we had our chances. That's why he's won so many games this year and why he's been so successful -- he knows how to get out of situations like that."