Season's first inning sets wrong tone for CC, Yanks
Four-run frame gives Astros commanding lead; offense held in check
HOUSTON -- The spring encouraged CC Sabathia that he was back to his bulldog ways, saying that he felt "fantastic" coming into the season. Those positive vibes evaporated quickly for the Yankees, who were handed a 6-2 Opening Day loss by the Astros on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.
Making his 11th career Opening Day start and sixth straight for New York, Sabathia was thumped for six runs in the first two innings, serving up home runs to Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes before settling in to save the bullpen by stringing together four scoreless innings.
"It's tough, but it's a long year," Sabathia said. "I have a lot of starts left. After the second inning, I felt like I threw the ball a lot better. I got some swings early in the count and was still able to go six innings. I just have to be better next time out."
Derek Jeter's final Opening Day had an inauspicious beginning. The Yankees' captain was drilled on the left forearm by a fastball from right-hander Scott Feldman; Jeter shook his wrist in pain but stayed in the game, finishing the evening 1-for-3 with an opposite-field single.
"To be honest with you, I was nervous -- probably a little more nervous this year because I hadn't played in a while," Jeter said. "When I got hit, I wasn't nervous anymore, so it probably helped me out."
Houston scored four times in a sloppy first inning. Dexter Fowler led off against Sabathia with a booming double to deep center field that carried over Jacoby Ellsbury's head to Tal's Hill, and then came home on Jose Altuve's single past a drawn-in infield.
Altuve was running on a Sabathia wild pitch and took third when catcher Brian McCann threw into left field, then scored as first baseman Mark Teixeira fired wildly to the plate on a Jason Castro fielder's choice. No error was charged on either play, though Carlos Beltran would later commit an error in right field.
"That's a tremendous job by that group in there," Houston manager Bo Porter said of his team. "They were focused and really came out with a lot of energy, and were aggressive and were able to give us a good lead."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he saw Sabathia's changeup cutting -- a departure from the lefty's encouraging spring -- when he ducked inside to watch television replays of the Astros' at-bats.
"That's not what we saw during Spring Training," Girardi said. "He'll iron that out. I'm not worried."
Sabathia left an 89-mph fastball up to Guzman, who unloaded on it for a two-run homer that struck an advertising board in left field. In the second inning, Hoes cracked an 83-mph changeup to left for a solo shot, and Altuve tacked on a run-scoring single.
"Everything just kind of sped up on me," Sabathia said. "I'm pretty good at slowing the game down, being able to gather my thoughts and make a good pitch. Everything just sped up on me, and I ended up with four runs in the first inning."
Sabathia said that he felt too amped early in the outing. The forgettable start marked a new installment in the left-hander's history of season-opening struggles. After bristling at questions concerning his velocity all spring, Sabathia now owns a 1-3 record with a 6.11 ERA all time on Opening Day.
"That's been the toughest thing for me; I do get so excited," Sabathia said. "I feel like I'm a kid again. I would sleep in my uniform if I could the night before Opening Day. I think it's just the nervousness, the jitters, wanting to start the season off good so bad, I end up pitching bad."
Feldman seemed to have no such issues, taking advantage of the large cushion to stay in command of the Yankees, who fell on Opening Day for the fifth time in six seasons. Making his Astros debut, Feldman held New York to a pair of singles over 6 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out three.
"Total team effort," Feldman said. "We came out from the get-go and put those runs on the board. CC's a great pitcher, but we were able to get him a little bit early tonight, and it made my job easier."
The Yankees were held hitless until Beltran singled with one out in the fourth inning. Teixeira had a seventh-inning single to account for the only other hit off Feldman.
Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno each pitched scoreless innings in relief of Sabathia, one bright spot on an otherwise disappointing evening, and New York avoided being shut out with two runs in the eighth.
After Kevin Chapman started the inning, McCann singled home Ellsbury with a hit to left off former Yankee Chad Qualls. Teixeira then beat the shift with a ground-ball single through the left side, chasing home Jeter with the second run.
"I had a feeling we were going to lose a game at some point this year," Girardi said. "We got it out of the way early."