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Indians falter with Sabathia in Game 1

Indians falter with Sabathia in Game 1

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.

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After another visit from Willis, Sabathia watched Mike Lowell smack a 1-1 pitch down the right-field line for a ground-rule double that was just out of right fielder Franklin Gutierrez's reach. It knocked in two runs to make it a 4-1 game. Yet another run came across in that third inning, when Jason Varitek grounded out to third with the bases jammed.

By this point, it was obvious that Sabathia, who, in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, had successfully fought through an outing in which he didn't have his best command, was in for a rough one.

"He didn't have it tonight," manager Eric Wedge said. "He just never really got in sync. When you're talking about facing a team like Boston, they're going to make you come in, they're going to make you work for it. You've got to prove you can be in the zone before they even think about expanding it."

Sabathia never really proved that. He would later say that he had a good feel for his fastball, but his changeup and slider were betraying him.

Why, then, didn't he stick to the heat?

"These are Major League hitters," Sabathia said. "If they know what's coming, they're going to be able to put the wood to it."

When the Red Sox weren't putting the wood to Sabathia's fastball, they were doing a fine job staying away from his other options. Ortiz drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, Ramirez moved him to second with a single and Lowell drew Boston's fifth walk of the night to load the bases.

That was the 11th walk issued by Sabathia this postseason, in which he's lasted just 9 1/3 innings over two starts. To put that into perspective, Sabathia issued just 37 free passes in 240 innings of regular-season work.

Tired, anyone?

"I don't think fatigue is a factor," Wedge said. "I think sometimes C.C.'s heart gets in the way. He tries to do a little bit too much."

Sabathia couldn't do much in that fifth except watch Bobby Kielty line a two-run single to right to end his night with the score at 7-1. The game only served to get uglier for the Tribe from that point, as relievers Jensen Lewis and Aaron Fultz let Boston tack onto its sizable advantage.

But the story was Sabathia's inefficient and ineffective outing, which puts the Indians in the uncomfortable position of needing a victory on Saturday night to avoid what could be an inescapable 2-0 deficit in this seven-game series.

On the bright side, Sabathia can at least take comfort in knowing that the Cy Young votes have already been cast. Had his candidacy against Beckett depended on this evening's exploits, he would have done unmistakable damage to his campaign.

"I was trying to be too fine, instead of throwing my pitches in the zone," Sabathia said. "They didn't chase pitches. Normally, I make them chase pitches."

Now, the Indians are the ones who will have to do the chasing.

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

{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }