Sabathia back, but support isn't

Sabathia back, but support isn't

CLEVELAND -- C.C. Sabathia's chief frustration during his well-documented struggles in his first four starts this season was that he simply wasn't giving his teammates a chance to win those ballgames.

On Sunday afternoon against Chien-Ming Wang and the Yankees, his teammates returned the favor -- if you can call it that.

Whipped by Wang, the Tribe bats were shut out for the second time this season in a 1-0 loss in front of 31,598 at Progressive Field, and Sabathia was saddled with his fourth defeat.

Not that he earned it. Sabathia (1-4, 7.88 ERA) provided further proof that he is back to his Cy Young form by holding that potent Yankee lineup to one run -- Melky Cabrera's fifth-inning solo shot -- on four hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in eight innings.

"It's definitely frustrating to lose," Sabathia said. "We don't get shut out very often, but Wang was good."

Was he ever. And so was Sabathia.

In fact, this was the type of heated pitchers' duel expected -- but not delivered -- in Game 1 of last fall's American League Division Series, the last time Sabathia and Wang squared off.

"You're not going to see better pitching than you saw today," manager Eric Wedge said. "Our guy and their guy took it as far as you can go."

The Indians' bats didn't take Wang to the edge very often. In seven innings against him, all they mustered was four hits and two walks, striking out nine times.

Absent sparkplug center fielder Grady Sizemore, the Indians still managed to put the leadoff guy aboard four times in the first five innings, to no avail. They only advanced a runner to scoring position twice all afternoon.

Whereas Wedge and the Indians haven't been quick to give credit to opposing starters very often this season -- often assigning the blame to their own biteless bats -- that wasn't the case this time.

Wang shut down an offense that was just beginning to jell this week.

"[Wang] was pretty good," said right fielder Jason Michaels, the only Tribe player to notch an extra-base hit. "That's the first time I've faced him. He has five pitches, and he was using four of them, mostly. He can run it anywhere from 89 [mph] on his fastball to 95, and he's got movement on his stuff."


"You're not going to see better pitching than you saw today. Our guy and their guy took it as far as you can go."
-- manager Eric Wedge

Sabathia had too much movement on his stuff in the season's early going. His problem had centered around his lack of command of his pitches, namely his fastball and cutter. He seemed to have resolved that issue with six shutout innings against the Royals last week, but it remained to be seen how he'd fare against a more threatening lineup.

He fared quite well, aside from that one pitch to Cabrera.

That pitch came after Robinson Cano led the fifth inning off with a single, only to be caught stealing. Sabathia couldn't capitalize on the momentum of that play, leaving a first-pitch changeup dangling over the middle of the plate to Cabrera, who pounded it over the left-field wall.

"He put a good swing on it," Sabathia said.

Sabathia, though, didn't let that good swing get the best of him. He followed up Cabrera's blast by striking out Jose Molina and Johnny Damon to end the fifth.

In the sixth, Sabathia was in a major jam when Derek Jeter led off with a double and advanced to third on a groundout. Sabathia reared back and got both Alex Rodriguez and Shelley Duncan to go down swinging at fastballs to end the inning.

An especially animated Sabathia pumped his fist and belted out a celebratory scream.

What led to this display?

"Just everything," Sabathia said. "The first four starts, and that situation. I was just letting a lot of frustration out."

But the frustration would return as the Indians continued to go down quietly against Wang, who only got better as the game wore on.

"I went deeper than the playoffs," Wang said. "It was different. Last year, I only threw a lot of sinkers without changing a lot of speeds. Today I changed a lot of speeds."

The storyline didn't change when Wang came out. Joba Chamberlain retired the Tribe in order in the eighth and closer Mariano Rivera did likewise in the ninth, snapping the Indians' season-best winning streak at five games.

At the least, though, the Indians had the psychological appeal of knowing their ace is back to his Cy Young form of a season ago.

"I can't say enough about C.C.'s effort," Wedge said. "He went out and got it done. He deserved a better fate."

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