NEW YORK — Anxiety. Conflict. Noise.
Remove all context from Yankees-Mets on Sunday night and you would have thought you were witnessing playoff baseball at Citi Field.
This felt different. This was the culmination of a season-long journey the Mets and their supporters have navigated through for months on end.
Under the lights. A nation of baseball fans watching. Their ace on the mound. Now, tied 1-1 in a weekend series with the Yankees, a chance to momentarily take back ownership of their city.
The Yankees confronted the challenge.
With a chance to pull within 2.5 games of the Blue Jays in the AL East, CC Sabathia and the New York bats dug themselves out of an early hole and showed a raucous crowd to the exits.
Sabathia shined, yielding just one run on five hits over six innings after a 32-pitch first. He struck out seven hitters.
“Everything just got better,” said manager Joe Girardi. “He really settled down and threw the ball extremely well. It was down in the zone. He used his changeup really effectively.”
He’s sporting a 1.04 ERA and .190 BAA in his last three outings.
Sabathia threw 14 changeups and 17 sliders in the game. After an RBI double from David Wright in the first inning, just one of five balls put in play on either one of the pitches went for a hit.
He had five whiffs on eight swings with his change.
“It was huge for me,” Sabathia said. “That change that [Wright] hit was up. I was just being conscious and making sure that I got my offspeed pitches where they needed to go.”
Maybe more encouraging was the performance of Jacoby Ellsbury, who was so instrumental in the team’s hot start. He’s seven for his last 16 after snapping out of an o-for-22 skid.
Ellsbury went 3-for-5 with an RBI and stole just his second base since Aug. 24. He and Brett Gardner combined to score four runs.
“That’s a one-two punch that anyone would love to have,” said Dustin Ackley, who hit a three-run home run in his second straight start at the keystone for New York. “When you have those guys getting hits and getting on base, it makes it tough on other teams. They’ve got to think … it can be a long day.”
On this crisp, windy night in Queens, in an unfriendly environment, the Yankees were able to settle themselves after an uneasy first inning. Hitters worked counts, beat out throws, and hit the ball hard.
The resilience and cohesiveness of this unit is often played down. A surge of neophytes have dropped the team’s average age to 28, which is around the median average age for big league clubs. Before the season, it was over 29 and inching towards the top 10.
They’re energizing the veteran players on the roster, and the veterans are giving back.
“Tonight, [Sabathia] was able go out there and fight,” said Carlos Beltran. “That’s a great message to the younger guys. You can look up to a guy like that and understand that right now, this time of the year, you’re going to feel sore. But this is this time of the year when you can’t focus on that. You’ve got to focus on performing.”
Greg Bird has 20 HRs in 115 total games this season. Ackley has hit himself into the lineup. CC Sabathia is finally healthy, confident, and effective.
This is the look of a playoff ballclub.
(Photo: Anthony Gruppuso- USA Today Sports)