Sabathia was better than in his first start against the Red Sox but couldn't match Josh Beckett, leaving the Indians needing one more victory to get to the World Series. The series resumes Saturday with Game 6 at Fenway Park in Boston and the Indians up, 3-2.
Sabathia worked in and out of trouble all night Thursday, allowing four runs on 10 hits, two walks and a couple of hit batters. His defense helped him out with a couple of double plays, and right fielder Franklin Gutierrez threw out Manny Ramirez trying to score from second on Mike Lowell's first-inning single.
"I was able to throw a few offspeed pitches over for strikes and that helped me a little bit," Sabathia said. "It just didn't work out in the end."
Sabathia, who allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings in Game 1, kept Game 5 close for six innings, and the Indians trailed 2-1 going into the seventh. At that point, Sabathia had thrown 106 pitches but had retired the side in order in the sixth inning for the first time all night.
That was one reason why manager Eric Wedge sent him out to pitch the seventh, even with a rested bullpen and the top of the Red Sox lineup coming to the plate.
"We had a couple decisions to make there," Wedge said. "One, C.C. pitched probably about as good as he pitched the prior inning. He was pretty efficient. If you go straight to [Rafael] Betancourt, you're talking about Betancourt throwing two innings down, and the way C.C. was throwing, it was not something I was interested in because it's going to weaken us over the weekend, if everything remains the same.
"Otherwise, we're talking about potentially using three relievers in one inning because we're at the top of the order and we go right-hander, left-hander, right-hander ... and if we tie it up late, you're talking about being pretty thin in your bullpen."
The decision didn't work. Dustin Pedroia led off the seventh with a double and then Kevin Youkilis drove a ball into the right-center gap. Center fielder Grady Sizemore tried to make a diving catch but couldn't hold onto the ball. Pedroia scored, Youkilis ended up at third with a triple and Wedge had to go to Betancourt anyway. David Ortiz's sacrifice fly made it 4-1.
Sabathia said he didn't feel tired that inning.
"I felt good," Sabathia said. "My arm felt fine. I felt like I was throwing the ball well. I just left the ball up."
One significant difference in this game and his two previous playoff outings is Sabathia cut down the number of walks. This time he only walked two, but one still ended up costing him. Ortiz drew a two-out walk in the third and came around to score on Manny Ramirez's disputed single off the top of the outfield wall.
"I'm disappointed, but I'll still be able to sleep better tonight, unlike my last start," Sabathia said. "I pitched the way I'm capable of pitching. I pitched my game. I just got beat."