|Gary Sanchez rounding second base on his home run in the first inning. Photo by Jason Schott.
CC Sabathia earned his 250th victory as the Yankees routed the Tampa Bay Rays, 12-1, on Wednesday afternoon to complete the sweep of this pivotal three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees (46-27) now lead the Rays by 3-1/2 games in the American League East and they welcome in another contender, the Houston Astros, on Thursday for a four-game set.
Sabathia is now just the 14th pitcher in Major League history with 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts, a milestone he also achieved earlier this season, on April 30 at Arizona.
"It's crazy to put my name up there with some of those guys that I idolized, some of those names that are enshrined in baseball history," CC said of joining that elite club. "To be a part of that, it's a big deal, it's fun to have those numbers, I guess."
|CC Sabathia during his postgame press conference. Photo by Jason Schott.
Sabathia said of what earning his 250th means to him, "Just another win for us, a sweep against a very good team. We wanted to keep it rolling today, and I was able to come out and get us a win. Guys came out and swung the bats early, Gary (Sanchez) caught a great game and we were able to get the sweep.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of CC winning 250, "It's awesome, man. I mean, to come into 3,000 (strikeouts), now 250, you know, this is a sport that goes back a long, long ways and those are numbers that - more so than any other sport - mean something and speak to his greatness and his longevity."
Sabathia went six innings, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks, with 7 strikeouts, and he is now 4-4 on the season with a 4.14 ERA.
Boone said of CC's performance in this one, "For him to go out there today and he was great. We talked a lot about his last couple outings where he was struggling to find the cutter a little bit. I think he got better as the game kind of unfolded. I thought his stuff improved as it unfolded. He stared at me pretty hard walking off the sixth, I thought he was going to challenge me for the seventh, but no, really excited for him to go out and set the tone for us today and finish off a really good series."
The Yankees' offense went right to work against Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, who entered this one with a 4-5 record and a 3.70 ERA this season.
DJ LeMahieu got it started with a single, followed by a walk to Luke Voit.
Gary Sanchez was up next and he launched a three-run home run to right field, his 21st of the season, to make it 3-0 Yankees. Sanchez now now has the most home runs for a catcher before the All-Star break since Javy Lopez of the Braves in 2003, when he hit 23 in 71 games. This year's All-Star Game is still three weeks away.
This extended the Yankees' streak of consecutive games with a home run to 22, second-most in franchise history and just three away from the record of 25 set from June 1-29 1941.
Next up was Edwin Encarnacion, and he laced a single before being erased on a fielder's choice hit into by Aaron Hicks for the first out of the innings, which it took Snell 26 pitches to earn.
Gleyber Torres and Cameron Maybin followed with walks to load the bases, and incredibly, that was all for Snell, who was at 39 pitches (just 19 of which were strikes).
In came left-handed Colin Poche for Gio Urshels, who got the start at third base. This at-bat turned into an eight-pitch battle, and ended when Urshela was drilled with a pitch in the foot, which forced in a run to make it 4-0 Yankees.
Brett Gardner was up next and he popped one up to shortstop for the second out.
LeMahieu was next up for his second at-bat of the inning, and he laced a single to score Torres and
Maybin and give the Yankees a 6-0 lead. All six runs were charged to Snell.
Voit struck out to end an inning in which the Yankees put on a clinic.
In the Yankees' first, they scored 6 runs on 3 hits, including a home run, 3 walks, a hit-by-pitch, and forced Tampa Bay pitchers to throw 57 pitches (Snell 39, Poche 18).
"That's the ultimate job of controlling the strike zone right there," Boone said of the Yankees' first inning. "We took everything that, you know, I think, he (Snell) normally gets chases on those pitches and because we controlled the strike zone so well, he ends up throwing - I think he threw 39 pitches in that inning - and we got him out of there.
"Obviously, the big home run, but more than that, it was just every guy putting on a really tough at-bat against him and wore down one of the game's best pitches. I thought it was a clinic of our guys just controlling the zone."
Sabathia retired Tampa Bay in order in the second and third and worked around a double to Willy Adames in the fourth before running into trouble in the fifth. With one out in the inning, he walked Ji Man Choi and Daniel Robertson before getting Travis d'Arnaud to pop up the first pitch to him for the second out. Tommy Pham then doubled home Choi to make it 6-1 Yankees before Sabathia got Meadows to fly out to left field with two runners on base to end the inning.
Starting with Voit's strikeout to end the first, they did not get another hit against Poche, who stayed on for the second, and then four more relievers who pitched an inning each starting in the third, Emilio Pagan, Ryan Stanek, Diego Castillo, and Adam Kolarek.
In the seventh, Kolarek struck out Gardner to open the inning, the 17th straight Yankee retired.
LeMahieu and Voit walked before Sanchez got an RBI double to left field to make it 7-1 Yankees.
That was all for Kolarek, as Tampa Bay brought in Oliver Drake, who then allowed an RBI single to Encarnacion and a walk to Hicks to load the bases.
Torres was up next and he launched a blast into the Yankees bullpen in right field for a grand slam, the first of his career, and the Yankees were up 12-1, which was the final.
The Yankees made quite a statement with this sweep, as Masahiro Tanaka got a complete game shutout on Monday, their offense came back late on Tuesday night to pull out a win, and then the Yankees knocked out Tampa Bay's ace in the series finale.
Boone said of what it means to sweep Tampa Bay in this fashion, "That's big - I mean, you know, division games take on a little more importance and, you know, especially, I think, the respect that we have for that team and know how tough they are. For us to have that kind of series against them right there, that's a nice way to go into the evening."