CLEVELAND -- The hope was that CC Sabathia would earn his 250th career win in the building where it all began for him.
The reality is that what was, in all likelihood, Sabathia’s final start at Progressive Field was over fairly quickly, and he and the bullpen could not contain the Indians in an 8-4 defeat on Saturday afternoon that prolonged a difficult stretch of five losses in six games for the Yankees.
Sabathia had made his Major League debut in this building way back on April 8, 2001 -- or 20 days before the Yankees’ 2019 first-round pick, Anthony Volpe, was born.
This, though, was not a happy homecoming.
Sabathia’s right knee, which has required an arthroscopic procedure three times in the last three years, gave him some minor trouble when he fielded a Kevin Plawecki grounder in his fifth and final inning.
“It was a sharp pain,” Sabathia said. “It happens a lot. … I felt fine after it got a little rest.”
The bigger trouble, however, was the slider he hung to rookie Oscar Mercado for the two-run homer that gave the Indians the lead for good that inning.
“Honestly,” Sabathia said, “I didn’t have anything today.”
But though he looked sharp the first time through the Indians’ order, the 38-year-old Sabathia could not maintain that lead. He gave up a pair of runs in the fourth to even the score, and Mercado’s homer changed the trajectory of the ballgame. The runs kept coming off the Yankees pitching staff in the sixth, when Roberto Perez and Kevin Plawecki both went deep off Jonathan Holder to make it 7-2.
The Yankees have had trouble getting quality starts and solid relief on this trip through Toronto and Cleveland. In fact, the bullpen has allowed 16 earned runs in its last 15 1/3 innings.
As a result, the Yanks have lost back-to-back series for the first time since mid-April. They had the lead in each of the first two games of this set against the Indians, which wraps up Sunday, and lost it both times.
“Sometimes that fifth, sixth, seventh inning, we’ve got to be able to get some key outs in those spots,” manager Aaron Boone said. “That’s sometimes the difference. Obviously if we can get a lead through the middle innings with our guys, we feel great about it. But we’ve got to get some key outs when we’re down a run or two or even tied in those middle innings. Those are the key innings.”
The Yankees’ frustration was most visible when Brett Gardner, mired in a slump, threw his helmet against a dugout wall in anger after his well-struck drive to center -- a ball with just a 20 percent catch probability -- was hauled in on a five-star catch from Jordan Luplow. The helmet bounced back and struck Gardner in the bottom lip, necessitating five stitches.
That kind of day. That kind of trip.
The Sabathia storyline was similarly spoiled. As was the case when he met with the media Friday, Sabathia was not keen on discussing any emotion associated with this last trip back to his old stomping grounds, where he starred from 2001-08. And given the result, he was in an even less reflective mood.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “We’ve played well up until this point. We just need to get back on it. We’re very capable. It’s just a tough stretch for us.”