I don't blame C.C. Sabathia for Game 5.
Sabathia made vast improvements since Game 1 of the ALCS where he walked 5 and gave up 8 runs in 4.1 innings. There's really no comparison between the two starts, which is good news for Cleveland.
In Game 5, C.C. gave up 4 ER, 10 H, and a HR over 6 IP. The most important stat of the night was the fact he only surrendered 2 walks, while throwing 62.5% of his pitches for strikes. Again, this is a near complete turnaround from 5 walks and 51.7% pitches for strikes in his last start. Throw in 6 strikeouts and you have a solid bounce-back start for the Tribe's ace. Not great, but certainly winnable.
As encouraging as Sabathia's Game 5 seems on the surface, the numbers lie a little bit. Sabathia's more aggressive approach (more strikes, less nibbling) resulted in less walks, but his stuff was far from dominant. Instead, he gave up 10 hits and allowed at least one baserunner in every inning except the 6th. C.C. walked a thin line all night, owing a saved run to Gutz in the 1st, narrowly avoiding an additional run from Ramirez's "single" in the 3rd, and escaping from a bases loaded jam in the 5th.
Like a Joe Borowski save, the bottom line is what matters most. C.C. got the job done tonight by giving his team a chance to win.
I'm still on the fence as to whether Wedge should have brought Sabathia back out for the 7th inning. Wedge had to have known he was playing with fire by having Sabathia face the top of Boston's lineup again. The 7th would have been C.C.'s fourth time facing Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ortiz. Based on the lead-off double and triple from said batters, Sabathia wasn't fooling anyone. At 106 stress-filled pitches, Sabathia probably didn't have much left in the tank and may have been struggling with his focus.
I understand why Wedge stuck with C.C., but it was still a very risky decision. Wedge said in a post-game interview if he had pulled C.C. after six, Betancourt would have had to pitch two innings and the remaining reliever matchups would have been difficult to deal with; these were things Wedge did not think benefited the team in the long run. Wedge also cited Sabathia was having his best start of the playoffs and didn't want to hamper his rhythm or confidence. He felt Sabathia could handle the large pitch count, citing past starts where he threw 120 pitches.
I emphasized Wedge's long term mentality to the situation because I feel it's important in understanding his decision. The team has been riding Betancourt the entire postseason. Betancourt leads the regular relievers with 6.1 innings pitched and has appeared in four of the five ALCS games. Jensen Lewis is not far behind with 5.1 IP. This may not seem like much, but you have to rest these guys at some point. Many people will point to the two off-days dividing the series as enough rest, but Wedge knows how his pitchers feel better than we do. I think some of the bullpen guys are feeling a little drained, otherwise Wedge would not have expressed concern when citing his reasons for sticking with Sabathia.
Wedge did not concede the game in the 7th inning; he took a calculated risk that backfired. Further proof of this is Betancourt having to pitch anyway in an attempt to preserve the 3-1 deficit Sabathia left behind.
I was a little hesitant to post this diary, but I was curious what you guys thought. I'm not trying to place the blame just on Wedge, as the offense and Beckett himself obviously played significant roles, too. Did Wedge make the right move or did he overplay concerns about the bullpen, given the situation? What did you want to see happen with the pitching in Game 5?