Sabathia has a bad moment and the Yankees can’t recover

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CC Sabathia. (mlb.com)
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The Yankees entered the seventh inning of Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Reds with a 2-0 lead.

"Sabathia's been dealing," Michael Kay declared on the YES Network broadcast as the seventh inning began.

CC Sabathia had thrown 85 pitches, allowed no runs, just three hits. There was little reason to believe Sabathia would need to even give way for a reliever. The Yankees were nine outs from a series win over the Reds.

But moments after Kay paid Sabathia's outing that compliment, it all fell apart. A first-pitch home run to Ryan Ludwick made it 2-1. Ryan Hanigan tied it two batters later, homering on an 0-2 pitch, of all things. Then Zack Cozart reached on an infield hit that, truth be told, would have been an out if hit to a more athletic pitcher. And finally, the unlikeliest turn of all: Sabathia walked the next three batters to force in a run, giving Cincinnati the lead they wouldn't relinquish. The final score was 5-2.

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After the game, manager Joe Girardi pointed out the obvious: If the Yankees had scored more than two runs Sunday, Sabathia's seventh-inning meltdown wouldn't have been decisive.

But on the YES broadcast, the focus was on all the home runs Yankee pitchers have given up this year.

"Now what do you make of this stat, guys," Kay asked his fellow announcers, John Flaherty and David Cone. "Coming into the game, Yankee starters have allowed 41 home runs in 40 games. That's the most they've ever allowed in the history of the franchise in the first 40 games."

History aside, the stat probably doesn't mean much. The Yankee starters allowed fly balls on balls in play 34.4 percent of the time in 2011. In 2012, that number is 35.1 percent, a negligible difference.

Fly-ball rate tends to be a decent indicator of home runs allowed. But in 2011, 10.6 percent of their fly balls left the ballpark, a bit above league average, but not significantly so. In 2012 so far? That number is an unsustainably high 16.7 percent. And for Sabathia, over the past two games, three of his 13 fly balls, or 23 percent, have become home runs. That prob ably won't continue.

Of greater concern is the walks. Sabathia walked five Sunday, after walking four in his previous start. He'd last walked as many as he did on Sunday back on April 22, 2010, and had only five games with four walks in all of 2011. So either Sabathia has a problem, or this is a command issue that he'll quickly correct.

He needs to do so, because with the way the Yankees are scoring runs right now, they need their talented pitchers to assume more of the responsibility. The offense is too talented to continue struggling this way, averaging just 3.7 runs per game during an 8-10 May. And the month's biggest contributor, Raul Ibanez, isn't likely to continue his torrid May pace.

Most teams in baseball would happily wait patiently for Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and things like team home run rate to revert to form. But as Michael Kay will tell you, the Yankees aren't most teams.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

METS

Powered by a single, double and triple from Mike Baxter, the Mets raced out to a 6-2 lead against the Blue Jays. A few harrowing bullpen innings later, Frank Francisco allowed the tying and winning runs to reach base before striking out the side to end the game and beat Toronto, 6-5, for their only win of the three-game series. The Mets lost Miguel Batista to a back injury, so Jeremy Hefner will get a shot at filling the Mike Pelfrey rotation vacancy. And Ike Davis' future could include a trip to the minor leagues.

KNICKS

Jeremy Lin's agent told the New York Post that signing him won't be easy for the Knicks, in an interview that reveals more about the motivations of Lin's agent than anything else.

RANGERS

Ahead of Game 4,  the Devils are making some lineup changes. New York leads New Jersey in the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

SOCCER

The New York Red Bulls, playing on the road, down to 10 men, rallied for a 2-1 victory in Montreal Saturday night. They lead the Eastern Conference by a point over DC United, with two games in hand over their nearest rivals.

You might want to go see Argentina-Brazil at MetLife Stadium on June 9. Argentina will see Brazil's Neymar, and raise the Brazilians a best player in the world (Lionel Messi) and Manchester City's elite attacker Sergio Aguero.

Also: Chelsea beat Bayern in the Champions League final, in Munich.