2 rain delays stall CC’s shot at perfection

Watching the way the Mariners went out one at-bat after another so placidly Monday night, the thought of what CC Sabathia might do to that lineup Tuesday night was downright scary. Seattle has been a mysterious team in the second half. It was a .500 club until 17 games ago, all losses.

The latest came at the hand of Sabathia, who flirted with perfection into the seventh inning. Not even a half-hour rain delay could throw the lefthander off stride. CC continued to polish off his Cy Young Award credentials with seven masterful innings

The buzz in the crowd of 46,132 at Yankee Stadium began early as Sabathia set down the M’s with ease. With four strikeouts the first time through the order, CC only got better as he struck out the side in both the fourth and fifth innings.

The Yankees supplied Sabathia support with Curtis Granderson’s 28th home run, in the fourth, and added two more runs in the fifth on singles by Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Eric Chavez just off the disabled list and Brett Gardner and a run-producing infield out by Derek Jeter.

Challenging Sabathia for excitement, however, was a light show going on in the northwestern skies beyond left field, a strong indication that rain was on the way. It arrived after Sabathia struck out the first batter in the sixth and had the crowd moaning because who knew how long it would last and whether it might force CC out of the game?

It reminded me of David Cone’s perfect game in 1999 at the Stadium against the old Montreal Expos. That game was also halted by a rain delay, but Cone continued. In fact, he said later that he actually pitched better after the break in action because he was forced to re-focus.

Fortunately, the storm did not last long enough to force Yankees manager Joe Girardi to consider replacing Sabathia, which would not have been a popular move to say the least. The crowd let out a howl when CC returned to the mound after the 30-minute delay. He retired the two batters he faced to stay perfect through six innings.

Could he complete a Mount Rushmore of Yankees perfect game pitchers by joining Cone, Don Larsen and David Wells?

A leadoff strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki in the seventh was an encouraging sign even if the Ichiro of 2011 does not match the player we had watched the previous decade. Sabathia then fell behind 2-0 to Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan. CC’s next pitch was 984-mph fastball towards the outside of the plate, but Ryan made solid contact and pulled it into left field for a clean single.

Sabathia was no longer perfect, but he was still commanding. He struck out the next two batters to end the inning and run his K total to a career-high 14.

A second rain delay before the Yankees batted in the seventh stopped play for 14 minutes. This time it appeared Sabathia was affected. After not walking a batter for seven innings, CC walked the bases full in the eighth.

David Robertson was brought in to do his magic trick and nearly succeeded with two strikeouts, but a bobbled grounder by Chavez at third lost any chance for a double play as a run scored on a fielder’s choice.

Still, that single by Ryan would be the only hit as Mariano Rivera completed matters with a perfect ninth that included two more strikeouts that brought the total to 18. That tied the club record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The other time was June 17, 1978 by one pitcher, Ron Guidry, against the Angels.

The run was a mere blemish on the performance by Sabathia, who improved his record to 15-5 with a 2.56 ERA. He has allowed only five runs in his past seven starts totaling 54 2/3 innings and is 6-1 with a 0.82 ERA. Remember, CC didn’t have a victory in his first four starts (0-1, 3 no-decisions), so he is 15-4 in 19 starts since April 23.

And to think that we are going to look back at this season and say somehow CC Sabathia did not make the All-Star team. I mean, didn’t the American League want to win?

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