BOSTON – CC Sabathia may appear larger than life, and -- no disrespect -- somewhat larger than his uniform, too. But the Yankees' ace assumes all the responsibility that comes with his size, his place in the rotation and the $161 million he's being paid to shut down the Red Sox.
So when it came to assessing the damage from Sunday night's 9-7 loss to Boston, in which Sabathia blew a 5-1 lead, the lefthander didn't bother with nuance.
The blame, he said, was his.
"Put this one on me." Sabathia said afterward, running down a long list of mistakes that cost the Yankees a chance at an Opening Night victory in Fenway.
You know the Bombers would've loved to embarrass the Sox in their home park, especially with a national television audience tuned in. The Sox had Josh Beckett on the mound in the start of a new run-prevention campaign that's aimed specifically at the Yankees' nuclear lineup.
The theory is that superior pitching and athleticism will trump the Bombers' offense, but that turned to vapor when Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson hit back-to-back homers off Beckett in the second inning -- the first time in 47 combined at-bats either Yankee had ever taken Beckett deep.
The ballpark's radar gun told a story of a pitcher in distress: Beckett's fastball, normally clocked between 94-96, was sitting at 92-93. That was the opening the Yankees needed. They widened the lead to 5-1 and knocked Beckett out in the process. As he walked off the mound in the fifth, he was greeted with faint applause and an uncomfortable murmuring in the stands.
The rest should've been easy -- at least if you believe Sabathia is the closest thing the Yankees have had to a machine since they figured out Roger Clemens was on steroids. Sabathia is the weapon the Yankees worry least about, and it showed when his pitch count ran over 100 in the sixth inning and the Sox were closing in.
So whose fault was it that Kevin Youkilis lashed an opposite-field triple into the right-field corner, scoring Dustin Pedroia and cutting the Yankees' lead to 5-4?
Was it Sabathia, who bemoaned the fact that he was "nibbling too much" and not challenging Boston's hitters?
Or was Joe Girardi wrong to let Sabathia throw that many pitches this early in the season?
Sabathia, of course, wouldn't even entertain the notion that anyone else was the culprit. "Blame me," he repeated. "I felt good out there, but I didn't go after (the Red Sox). This was my fault."
Girardi ultimately rescued Sabathia after David Ortiz was retired on a grounder to second, keeping the 5-4 lead intact. After that, every one of the manager's decisions backfired.
He summoned David Robertson, who promptly allowed the game-tying single to Adrian Beltre.
He summoned Chan Ho Park, who allowed Pedroia a two-run HR in the seventh.
He finally tried Joba Chamberlain, who got smoked by Pedroia, too, this time hitting an RBI single in the eighth.
So maybe there's blame for everyone, although Girardi correctly noted, "It's just one game, you can't make too much of it. It's a long season."
But that's the point: It feels like Sabathia has a million long seasons on that arm. He's thrown 775 innings in the last three seasons, including the playoffs, which is more than any pitcher in the big leagues.
Sabathia is only 29, is what the Yankees will tell you in defense of the heavy workload. Right. Only 29 and he'll surpass 2,000 innings this summer. Remember one other nugget: Sabathia didn't pitch particularly well in spring training, finishing with a 7.23 ERA. It's worth remembering the next time he's in trouble in the sixth inning. There's nothing that says an ace -- even one who stands 6--foot-7 and weighs 300 pounds -- is necessarily indestructible.
Chances are Sabathia will find the extra zip on his fastball as the weeks progress. Like Beckett, Sabathia was clocked mostly in the 93-mph range on his fastball -- a tick slower than usual. The reason the Yankees' ace was nibbling is because he didn't have confidence in his ability to get swings-and-misses with his four-seam fastball.
History suggests Sabathia will find the missing octane. But in the meantime, he's big enough -- literally and figuratively -- to protect his manager from the slings and arrows from second-guessers.
"My fault," Sabathia said. His chance for redemption comes around in five days.
SANTANA'S BIG MOMENT AT CITI FIELD:
There'll be plenty of energy at Citi Field today during the home opener against the Marlins, but it's not quite the kind the Mets were hoping for. The reigning emotion will be anxiety, as this is a franchise already teetering on disaster.
Two of its best players -- Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran -- are on the DL. Even worse, four of the starters in today's lineup are candidates for demotion or outright release in the next 4-6 weeks: Alex Cora, Mike Jacobs, Gary Mathews Jr. and Rod Barajas.
Johan Santana, one of the organization's legitimate bright spots, needs to have a strong outing against Josh Johnson, lest the fans become woozy with the "here-we-go-again" fumes.
Forget about Jerry Manuel needing a good month to keep his job, The guy needs a good week. How about a good first inning?