BOSTON -- Peering into the mitt of Victor Martinez, C.C. Sabathia was one pitch from putting Manny Ramirez away. The bases were loaded, but the count was 0-2. It was precisely the type of situation where Sabathia might normally hurl a mid-90s fastball at the hands of the opposing batter, hoping to get him to flail away at strike three. But Sabathia, perhaps overly mindful of Ramirez's clout, got timid. He threw a slider in the dirt for ball one. Then another for ball two. Then a third below the zone for ball three. And, finally, a changeup inside for ball four.
Clearly, this wasn't the same Sabathia who pounded the zone en route to 19 wins this season. And, clearly, this wouldn't be a night in which the Indians would establish themselves on the American League Championship Series stage. Instead, it was a 10-3 defeat for the Tribe in Game 1 at Fenway Park on Friday night, urged on by Sabathia's shaky start, in which the big left-hander too often deviated from his game plan. "I'm really upset with myself for not being my usual, aggressive self," said Sabathia, who gave up eight runs on seven hits and walked five in 4 1/3 innings. "I look at it as a wasted opportunity." The Red Sox wasted no opportunity to jump on Sabathia's mistakes. And in this game, the mistakes were many. Afforded an early 1-0 lead on Travis Hafner's solo homer off Josh Beckett in the first inning, Sabathia immediately found the Red Sox hitters to be all too comfortable against him. Sabathia was put in the uncomfortable position of having to protect himself from leadoff man Dustin Pedroia's line-drive shot back up the middle, with his self-defense catch saving him from a knock to the noggin. But that would be the last time Sabathia would successfully avert disaster. Back-to-back singles from Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz brought up Ramirez, who lined a single to center to even the score at 1. That led to a rare talking-to Sabathia received from pitching coach Carl Willis, who had to encourage his ace to stick to his strengths. "I was trying to pitch around guys," Sabathia said, "which normally I don't do." In the second inning, Sabathia was back to his normal, non-nibbling self. He needed just 11 pitches to strike out the side. With the game tied at 1, the pitchers' duel everybody expected out of the AL's two leading Cy Young Award candidates appeared to be on. That appearance, however, was deceiving. In the third, runners were on the corners for Ortiz, and Sabathia went a bit too far inside, nailing "Big Papi" with a fastball. The bases were loaded for Ramirez, who immediately found himself in an 0-2 hole. But this was the at-bat where Sabathia's rare bout with timidity would get the best of him. For when he walked Ramirez to bring home a run, he opened the door to defeat.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.