<
>

CC Sabathia the only bright spot on a dark Yankees day

play
Bautista's late HR pushes Blue Jays past Yanks (0:51)

Jose Bautista's three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning lifts the Blue Jays to a 3-0 victory over the Yankees. (0:51)

TORONTO -- Yogi Berra was right when he said, "It ain't over 'til it's over," but for all intents and purposes, this one is over.

The Yankees' 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday, a one-punch KO in comparison to Friday's slow and painful bludgeoning, shaved another day off the calendar and lowered their elimination number to five, pending the outcome of Saturday night's game between the Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks, with just eight games to play.

Their playoff hopes have moved into the realm of Lourdes (a miracle) and Lazarus (a raising of the dead).

But rather than lament what is unlikely to be, maybe it's time to take a look at what was -- a most unlikely playoff run to begin with -- and what still might be, which is the return of CC Sabathia as a useful member of their starting rotation next season, the last year of his contract.

Both developments had to be considered quite unlikely not all that long ago. The Yankees were pretty much presumed dead in the water at the trade deadline when they shed two elite relievers, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, and the best hitter on the team at the time, Carlos Beltran, along with Ivan Nova, who has shown himself to be quite a capable National League starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And just about a year ago at this time, Sabathia's career looked to be dead as dial-up internet due to the combined whammies of a drastic loss of fastball velocity, a chronic and degenerative knee condition and his entry into an alcohol rehab facility right after the last game of the regular season and just before the Yankees' one and only game in the postseason.

And yet, here he is a year later the last man standing, the only truly reliable starter left in the Yankees' rotation.

Part of this is through attrition, of course. A serious elbow injury ended Nathan Eovaldi's season, and probably his Yankees career, in August. A forearm strain has sidelined Masahiro Tanaka, who was pitching like a Cy Young candidate, for his next start and likely for the remainder of the season when and if the Yankees are eliminated from the race.

And part of it is through the quality of Sabathia's work, particularly in his last seven starts. Since Aug. 23, Sabathia's ERA is a tidy 2.57, his WHIP a stingy 1.167. But because the Yankees have given him virtually no run support, scoring just 12 runs for him in those seven starts, he is 1-2 with four consecutive no-decisions in that span.

Saturday was another of those. Sabathia matched Toronto's Marcus Stroman for seven innings, allowing no runs on four hits, and left with the game scoreless. The inevitable, of course, happened in the eighth inning when Jose Bautista, held relatively in check all day, walloped a 2-0 Tyler Clippard fastball deep into the left-field seats with two on to provide all the scoring the Blue Jays needed.

That not only left the Yankees one game closer to elimination, but also left Sabathia empty-handed again. For a team that needs to win every last game, this was an effort it could not afford to waste.

“You want to get him the win. He pitched great today, and we just couldn't get it done,” said Mark Teixeira, one of the few Yankees not to blame because he did not play due to a chronically stiff neck.

But you don't have to be in the game to recognize a fine effort gone to waste, and that has been the story of Sabathia's last month of the 2016 season.

"He did a really good job," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He had to battle through some innings early on, then was able to get deep into the game for us. So once again, he pitched really well and gave us a great chance to win."

As recently as spring training, however, nobody on the Yankees was looking to Sabathia as much more than an innings-eater -- the fifth starter on a staff that, on paper anyway, appeared pretty formidable. The Yankees were expecting big things from Luis Severino after his excellent half-season in 2015. They were hoping for improvement and consistency from both Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, and from Tanaka they were expecting what they had been getting from him in his first two seasons as a Yankee.

Severino washed out as a sophomore starter only to remake himself as a reliever after being recalled at the deadline. Eovaldi got hurt. Pineda was at times very good and at other times shockingly bad. And after a slow start and with the exception of a stretch of starts in July, Sabathia has been pretty steady, and sometimes better than that. And because he is already bought and paid for -- his contract contains a $25 million vesting option for 2017 that kicks in as long as he does not end this season on the DL with a shoulder injury, something that is virtually guaranteed not to happen now -- the Yankees had better hope that he can carry this form into next season, when he will turn 37 years old.

Girardi, for one, said he was not surprised that Sabathia had rounded into a reliable member of a sometimes unreliable rotation. “I wouldn’t say that because of what I saw in September of last year [when Sabathia had a 2.17 ERA in his last five starts]. He was really good in September."

And he was mostly really good on Saturday, getting double plays when he needed them in the first two innings and stranding two runners in the fourth by getting Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr. to fly out harmlessly.

“It’s a long season, and you have some ups and downs, but I feel good about the way I’ve been pitching lately,” Sabathia said. "To be able to stay healthy and be out there and take the ball every fifth day means a lot.”

The Yankees had one legitimate chance to score on Saturday when Ronald Torreyes tripled -- only the Yankees' second hit of the game -- with two outs in the eighth off Jason Grilli. But Billy Butler, sent up to hit for Tyler Austin, struck out to end the inning. The Yankees finished with three hits -- Brett Gardner singled in the ninth -- and were shut out for the 13th time this season -- most in the AL -- and for the third game in a row, a dubious feat they had not accomplished for 41 years.

The days are getting short, the games are running out, and the illusion that this might in fact be a playoff team is all but blown.

But on yet another day of darkened hopes for the Yankees, there was one bright spot. Sabathia pitched well again.

With the amount of injury and uncertainty in their starting rotation for 2017, that is at least something to feel good about.