Yankees veteran CC Sabathia extended his mastery over Toronto on a day that saw young Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison pay for his lack of control.
Sabathia, in his 400th American League start, wobbled in the first and sixth innings but retired 16 of 17 between the flashpoints to help New York to a 6-4 victory Sunday afternoon.
The six-foot-seven left-hander, who looks like he sleeps in his baggy uniform, improved his record at the Rogers Centre to 7-1 and his career mark against the Jays to 15-4. He gave up four runs on seven hits and struck out six in a six-inning, 93-pitch performance that featured 65 strikes.
“He threw great,” said Yankees first baseman Kelly Johnson. “He mixed his pitches, he was in the zone, guys were off balance. That’s a good sign.
“He got more and more confident and his stuff got even better as the game went on.
The Yankee win came in the rubber match of a three-game series. New York (3-3) returns to the Bronx for a nine-game homestand while Toronto (3-4) has a day off before hosting Houston.
“Today was just on me,” said the 23-year-old Hutchison, who suffered his first Rogers Centre loss in six starts. “It was my loss.”
Hutchison (1-1) lasted just 3 1/3 innings. He struck out six but walked three and hit a batsman with all four scoring.
In only his second big league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, he gave up six earned runs on six hits while throwing 78 pitches including 49 for strikes. After striking out 19 and walking just four in spring training, he has struck out 10 and walked six in his last two starts.
Toronto manager John Gibbons says Hutchison has been struggling of late, although he got away with it previously.
“He was high in the (strike) zone a lot. That’s not who he is,” said Gibbons. “He’ll get back down there.
“He looked a little excited today. He looked like he was overthrowing. It’s not uncommon for young guys to do that. But he’s going to be fine. He’s the least of our worries, if you want to know the truth.”
Asked what his worries were, Gibbons laughed and said: “Where I’m going to eat this evening.”
But then he got serious.
“To have a big year, you’ve got to start winning some games like this,” he said. “It’s not easy, you can’t fall behind and spot them five runs, fall behind 6-1. But there comes a time you’ve got to start winning win some of these games, especially at home. You’ve got to find that magic, have that magic or something. And hopefully we can find that soon.”
Toronto came close with two outs in the eighth with a Jose Bautista drive caught at the warning track and an Edwin Encarnacion triple that almost went out. But Dioner Navarro grounded out to end the rally.
With one out in the ninth and closer David Robertson (who got his second save) on the mound, Brett Lawrie singled and pinch-hitter Adam Lind walked. But pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus popped out and Melky Cabrera, who earlier had homered for the third day in a row, flied out to right.
While Cabrera is hitting .323 and has tied his home-run total of three from an injury-ravaged 2013 season, other Jays bats have been cold to open this season.
Twelve of Toronto’s 22 runs have come via home run, with Cabrera and Bautista accounting for six of the Jays’ eight homers. But getting the scoreboard to tick over other ways has proved difficult.
It’s early days yet but Encarnacion is hitting .179 and has yet to register an RBI. Bautista has found the fences and has reached base safely in all seven games but has a .227 batting average. Lawrie is hitting .120, Rasmus .087.
Outside of Cabrera and Lind (.308), Maicer Izturis (.500) is at the top of the class with multi-hit games in all four of his starts.
Toronto came into the game hitting just .209 as a team. Only Houston, at .195, was worse in the AL. That means trouble unless your pitching can hold the opposition close.
The Jays did get that in 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief from Todd Redmond, Steve Delabar and Esmil Rogers. But the damage had already been done.
The Yankees came into the game without a home run, marking only the fifth time since 1923 that New York had gone without a homer for the first five games of the campaign. Brett Gardner changed all of that with a two-run shot in the fourth.
Yankees veteran Derek Jeter singled to right field to lead off the third inning for his 3,319th career hit, which tied him with Paul Molitor for eighth on MLB’s all-time hits list and fourth on the AL hits list.
“It’s special. I grew up watching Paul, I played against him briefly and I have a lot of respect for him and his career. Any time you talk about eighth in anything, it’s special, so it definitely means a lot,” said Jeter, who has reached base safely in 19 straight games against the Jays
The 33-year-old Sabathia gave up a leadoff homer to Cabrera — his second leadoff home run in three days — before settling down to dispatch one Blue Jay after another.
Sabathia, a six-time all-star who is making US$23 million this season, improved his major-league record to 206-116 in bouncing back from a rocky Opening Day start in Houston that saw him give up six runs in the first two innings.
“I threw the fastball more, just worked it in and out,” he said. “That made the other pitches more effective.”
But Toronto finally got to the big man with two outs in the sixth thanks to three singles and a double. Dioner Navarro’s double scored one run before Erik Kratz singled two more home to reduce the lead to 6-4.
Hutchison, who denied he was over-excited on the day, walked two and hit a batsman in a wobbly 25-pitch first inning that saw all three mistakes come home.
A leadoff walk scored when Gardner stole second, was moved to third by Jeter and came home on Jacoby Ellsbury’s groundout. After Brian McCann walked and Alfonso Soriano was hit by a pitch, Johnson doubled both home for a 3-0 lead.
Cabrera’s homer, on Sabathia’s second delivery of the day, made it 3-1.
A leadoff walk to Brian Roberts turned into another run in the fourth. Roberts stole second and was driven home by Yangervis Solarte, an eight-year minor-leaguer from Venezuela who is turning heads early in the season.
Gardner then slammed a 3-2 pitch over the right-field fence for a 6-1 lead.