Results tagged ‘ David Wells ’

Pitch count halts Pineda’s record chase

Michael Pineda had a chance to make history Sunday, but the pitch count police did him in. Rather than rant on like an old man about how pitchers are being babied to death these days, let me just say quickly what they can do with pitch counts. Shove ’em.

Here was Pineda using high fastballs, swirling sliders and freeze-frame changeups to embarrass one Baltimore hitter after another before a Mothers Day crowd of 39,059 at Yankee Stadium. Five of his first six outs were by strikeout. Over the fifth and sixth innings, he punched out six hitters in a row. The righthander added two more Ks in the seventh to bring his total to 16.

The fans, naturally, were loving it with their typical hand-clapping reaction to every two-strike pitch, a tradition that began at the Stadium June 17, 1978 when Ron Guidry set the franchise record with 18 strikeouts against the Angels. Pineda had a very good chance at breaking that mark or at least tying it. His pitch count, however, stood at 111. That was enough for manager Joe Girardi, who by the way was the catcher in the only other two games in which a Yankees pitcher struck out 16 batters — David Wells and David Cone, both in 1997.

So out came Pineda, depriving the crowd of an opportunity for an historic moment. Quite a few headed for the exits what with the Yankees comfortably in front at that point by five runs. The drama had exited the game with Pineda.

Girardi said he was unaware wha the club record was and that even if he did it would not have mattered. Considering how early in the season it is and that Pineda has a history of arm miseries in his brief career the call to the bullpen was the choice to make.

“Maybe if he was coming off a serious injury, it might have been a different story,” Girardi said.

A manager cannot worry about records. I get that. The idea is to win the game, which the Yankees did, 6-2, to take the series and boost their lead in the American League East to three games over second-place Tampa Bay where they will open a four-game set Monday night.

Personally, I could not help but be disappointed. When a pitcher is on the way Pineda was Sunday, one cannot help but want to see more, particularly if he is in range of a major achievement. After all, he was within four strikeouts of the all-time mark for a nine-inning game by Roger Clemens (twice) and Kerry Wood.

I was reminded of a game I watched on television one night early in the 2007 season. Jake Peavy, then with the Padres, had 16 Ks through seven innings against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. I was all prepared to watch him go for the record when Bud Black, then in his first year as San Diego’s manager, yanked him. Black, a former pitcher, yet!

Later that year when Peavy was named the National League Cy Young Award, I chatted with him by phone as the representative of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and asked him about that game.

“I’m with you, man,” Peavy told me. “I argued like crazy to stay in the game, but Skip hit me with that ‘It’s too early in the year’ stuff.”

That game was played April 25. Sunday was May 10. But another big difference is eight years. Major League Baseball is married to the pitch count these days and challenging it only marks you as a dinosaur.

Still, there is no evidence I see that holding pitchers back protects them from arm problems. There are more pitchers on the disabled list and lining up for Tommy John surgery than every before. In his 18-strikeout game, Guidry threw 138 pitches. He went on to win the American League Cy Young Award that year, pitched for 10 more years and nearly won a second Cy in 1985 but was runner-up to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen.

Pineda was no more aware of the record than was Girardi and made no argument to stay in the game. He must have used the word “happy” two dozen times after the game to describe how he felt. Think of how often he might have said it if he were allowed to take a shot at the Yankees’ record book.

The way Pineda was pitching it is hard to remember that he was actually behind in the score early on. He hung a 2-2 slider to J.J. Hardy, who drove it to left field for his first home run this season. That was in the second inning when Pineda also struck out the side, which he did again in the fifth. By then, the Yankees had moved in front after a four-run fourth inning against Bud Norris.

Carlos Beltran, who is starting to swing the bat better, got the Yankees even with his first home run of the year coming in his 100th at-bat. A walk to Chase Headley and singles by Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees the lead. Jacoby Ellsbury extended the advantage with a two-run double.

There was no stopping Pineda now. Fortified by more offense later on — a home run by Brian McCann in the fifth and an RBI double by Gregorius in the seventh — Pineda just proceeded to attack Orioles hitters.

“I felt great; everything was working,” Pineda said. “I was happy to do this on Mothers Day because I know my Mom was watching in the Dominican.”

She is not the only person watching. Pineda has become one of the dominant pitchers in the league with a 5-0 record and 2.72 ERA. He has stepped up big-time to help the rotation deal with the loss to injury of Masahiro Tanaka. Pineda was asked if he feels that he is now the Yankees’ ace.

“I’m not focusing on that,” he said. “I just want to keep helping this team win.”

Dellin Betances struck out one batter in the seventh and one in the eighth. It maked only the third time Yankees pitchers had 18 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. In addition to the Guidry game, they did it July 26, 2011 at Seattle.

Pineda tied Cone’s club mark for strikeouts in a game by a righthander, but I sure would have liked to see him try to go for the all-time record.

Old-Timers’ Day never gets old

Funny thing about the Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Day is that the event itself never gets old.

Other organizations that followed the Yankees’ lead over the years in staging reunions of their old players discontinued the practice except for special occasions.

With the Yankees, however, the exercise remains an annual event, and each year it seems something new is added. This year’s 68th annual gathering marked a return for the first time of favorites such as Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, key stars of the franchise’s last World Series championship of 2009. Another new returning alumni was John “The Count” Montefusco, a former National League Rookie of the Year with the Giants who became part of the Yankees’ rotation in the 1980s.

“I have been waiting to come to this almost as much as I waited to get to the majors when I was in the minors,” Montefusco said. “I just wanted my grandson [Nicholas] to see what his grandpa did for a living and some of the great guys he played with.”

One of the great things about new blood joining the exercise is that new old timers like Matsui and Damon are still agile enough to play in the three-inning game. Matsui hit a home run this year in the Hall of Fame Classic last month and after watching him swat a few into the stands during batting practice I thought he might pop one during the game but no such luck.

Matsui even pitched to one batter, a Hall of Famer no less, and gave up a single to Reggie Jackson. Meanwhile, there were pitchers all over the field. David Cone played some third base. So did “El Duque,” Orlando Hernandez. David Wells made a sparking scoop of a short-hopper at first base. Coney had a tough day on the mound. He gave up a home run to Jesse Barfield and a hit to his old running mate, Wells.

Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson told me during batting practice that he has been bothered by a sore toe. He said he went to the doctor thinking it was broken, but that x-rays were negative.

“Turns out I have arthritis from all the pounding I took,” said the all-time stolen base leader. “I guess I’m officially old.”

I told him, “No, that just means you’ll steal only two bases instead of five.”

Actually, stolen bases are frowned upon in the Old-Timers’ game. In the first inning, Henderson drove a liner to left-center and sore toe and all legged out a double.

A special treat in this year’s event Sunday was the dedication of a plaque in Monument Park for Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage, the day after first baseman Tino Martinez was installed.


The inscription reads:


1978-1983, 1989




JUNE 22, 2014

“To receive this today in front of all those guys and all you fans is overwhelming,” Goose said. “I can’t think of another word for it.”

Gossage reminisced that Old-Timers’ Day was always his favorite day of the year. He grew up in Colorado Springs with a father who was a huge Yankees fan. Goose followed the career of Mickey Mantle closely and got to see his hero at the first Old-Timers’ Day he attended while a visiting player. When he came to the Yankees in 1978, he made sure to circle that day on the calendar.

So it was fitting that Old-Timers’ Day was the venue for Goose’s entrance into Yankees immortality.

Yanks in ALCS for 15th time

The 2012 American League Championship Series marks the 15th ALCS for the Yankees, whose record coming into this series is 11-3. This is their 10th ALCS appearance in the past 17 seasons and the third in manager Joe Girardi’s five-season tenure. He also led them into the second round of the playoffs in 2009 and ’10.

The Yankees improved their record to 6-4 in best-of-five Game 5s (4-4 in the AL Division Series Game 5s, plus victories in the 1976 and 1977 ALCS vs. Kansas City when the ALCS was a best-of 5. It went to best-of-7 in 1985). The Yankees are 12-11 in winner-take-all postseason games, 4-6 mark since 1995. Friday’s victory ended a three-game losing streak in such games (losses in 2011 ALDS Game 5 against the Tigers, 2005 ALDS Game 5 at Los Angeles and 2004 ALCS Game 7 against the Red Sox).

The Yankees have won five of their last seven overall postseason series since 2009. They are 11-7 in 18 Division Series (1981, 1995-2007, 2009-12) and improved to 44-32 in ALDS games. The Yanks are 12-6 in postseason games at the current Yankee Stadium and 114-70 (.620) all time in postseason home games. They improved to 7-3 in postseason games against Baltimore and 3-2 in postseason home games vs. the Orioles (won 1996 ALCS 4-1, going 1-1 at the Stadium).

Yankees starting pitchers combined for a 2-1 record and 2.04 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings and holding opponents to a .193 batting average in 145 at-bats. Yankees pitchers have allowed three or fewer runs in each of their past seven postseason games (since 2011 ALDS Game 4), tied for the second-longest such streak in club history.

Yankees base runners matched their ALDS single game high with two steals (Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson), doing so for the sixth time in franchise history and first since Oct. 9, 2010 in Game 3 against the Twins.

CC Sabathia has a 9-4 record with a 4.25 ERA over 103 2/3 innings in 18 postseason games, all but one as a starter. With the Yankees, Sabathia is 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA over 78 2/3 innings in 13 games, all but one as a starter. He won both of his career postseason starts with his team facing elimination. He also won Game 5 of the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers when the Yanks trailed in games, 3-1. CC is the second Yankees starter to throw a complete game in the ALDS. The other was David Wells Oct. 4, 1997 in Game 3 at Cleveland. Sabathia’s 17 2/3 innings were the most for a Yankees pitcher in ALDS, surpassing the previous mark of 15 2/3 by David Cone in 1995 against the Mariners.

Derek Jeter was 0-for-3 in Game 5, which ended his streak of four multi-hit games to start this postseason. It matched the longest such streak in club history. The others occurred in World Series play, by Babe Ruth against the Cardinals in 1928, Lou Gehrig against the Cubs in 1932 and Moose Skowron against the Pirates in 1960. Jeter is a career .343 hitter in 268 ALDS at-bats.

Climate control difficult in modern postseason

As the start of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and the Orioles being delayed for the second straight day suggests, weather more and more plays a factor in baseball’s postseason. Remember last year’s rainout of Game 1 of the Yankees-Tigers ALDS wiped out the start for pitchers CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

It is a sign of the times. Not to get overly nostalgic, but consider this. Monday marked the 56th anniversary of Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the World Series at Yankee Stadium. The momentous event occurred in Game 5. That same date Oct. 8 this year was for Game 2 of the ALDS.

The 1956 World Series ended with a Yankees victory at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field Oct. 10. If the World Series goes the distance in 2012, the date of Game 7 will be Nov. 1. The weather can only get worse as the postseason continues to expand.

The Yankees’ five runs in the ninth inning in Game 1 at Camden Yards marked the fourth time they scored that many runs in the ninth inning of a postseason game. All the other times were also on the road. They scored seven runs in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1936 World Series against the Giants at the Polo Grounds and six runs apiece in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the ’36 Series and in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

At 40 years, 3 months, 24 days, Andy Pettitte was the fourth oldest pitcher to start a postseason game for the Yankees. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Yankees pitchers who were older than Pettitte were Roger Clemens (45 in 2007), Randy Johnson (43 in 2006) and David Wells (40 years, 4 months in October 2003). Wells was only a week younger than Pettitte.

Monday night’s Game 2 assignment was Pettitte’s 43rd postseason start. The total for the entire Baltimore staff was 10. It was also Pettitte’s 16th start in Game 2 of a postseason series, the most in history. Tom Glavine is second with 11.

Pitcher Dellin Betances was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list in order to participate in Arizona Fall League. To make room on 40-man roster, pitcher Cory Wade was designated for assignment.

Kind of a perfect Sunday

I stopped in Sheppard’s Place, the media dining room behind the press box, to have breakfast Sunday with my pals Lee Mazzilli, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. At the table next to us were David Cone and David Wells, the former pitchers turned broadcasters.

Cone was at Yankee Stadium as part of the YES crew with Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill. Wells was here as Dick Stockton’s partner on the TBS telecast of the Yankees-Angels game. The two Davids, of course, pitched perfect games with the Yankees, Wells in 1998 against the Twins and Cone in 1999 against the old Expos (now the Nationals). Sterling broadcast them on the radio. Waldman was then covering for WFAN and I for the Hartford Courant.

O’Neill played right field in both those games. He also was the Reds’ right fielder in 1988 when Tom Browning pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers. Paulie is the only player in major-league history to have been on the winning side of three perfect games.

Also at the Stadium Sunday was the guy who was O’Neill’s opposite, the only player to have been on the losing side of three perfect games. Alfredo Griffin, the Angels’ first base coach, was a former shortstop who spent 18 seasons in the big leagues. He was the Dodgers’ shortstop in the Browning perfecto and also in the one the Expos’ Dennis Martinez pitched against Los Angeles in 1991. Griffin had been the shortstop for the Blue Jays in 1981 when the Indians’ Len Barker threw a perfect game against Toronto.

Another piece of trivia about that Browning perfect game: Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, broadcast 19 no-hitters in his legendary career. It would have been an even 20, but he was not with the Dodgers for the Browning game because he was covering another game that night on assignment for NBC when it did national coverage Saturday afternoons and Monday nights.

How perfect is all that?

HOPE Week: Children’s Alopecia Project

The Yankees concluded HOPE Week 2012 Friday by celebrating the Children’s Alopecia Project (CAP) and the group’s founders, the Woytovich family. The Yankees’ contingent that surprised the CAP kids at a picnic at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx featured manager Joe Girardi; pitchers Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Rafael Soriano and Cory Wade; outfielders Andruw Jones and DeWayne Wise; third baseman Alex Rodriguez; bullpen coach Mike Harkey; former Yankees players Darryl Strawberry and David Wells; former Rutgers football player and HOPE Week ambassador Eric LeGrand and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.

Events included face- and head-painting, a scavenger hunt, lunch and games. After the picnic, CAP kids and their families were invited to the Stadium for the game against the White Sox. The Woytovich family and the children of CAP watched batting practice from the field and were part of pregame on-field ceremonies. Madison and Jeff threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

In October 2003, while Betsy Woytovich was undoing the braids of her 5-year-old daughter Madison, hair began coming out in clumps. A doctor confirmed that Madison had alopecia, an auto-immune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere in varying degrees, a condition that affects approximately four million Americans.

Madison’s father, Jeff, searched for a support network, but learned that there was no organization that focused on children with alopecia. Betsy and Jeff wanted to make sure that Madison and children like her maintained their confidence and self-esteem heading into their teenage years. So in August 2004, they created the Children’s Alopecia Project which focuses on three goals: to build self-esteem, provide support and raise awareness.

There are now 15 CAP Kids Support Groups around the country working with families from 30 states. Additionally, there are associated groups in Hong Kong, Canada, South America and Russia. More than 1,000 families are registered members of CAP, while at least 10,000 families have received information or been counseled by members of CAP.

Ripken and Smoltz praise Jeter

During a conference call this week to talk about the All-Star Game voting for the July 10 event at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and former National League Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz commented on Derek Jeter’s runaway lead for the American League shortstop starting berth.

Ripken will be featured with former Yankees pitcher David Wells and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on TBS’ All-Star Game Selection show at 1 p.m. Sunday when the All-Star squads will be announced. Smoltz will team with Brian Anderson on TBS’ coverage of that day’s game between the Yankees and White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

Jeter, who turned 38 this week, has received more than four million votes going into the All-Star balloting, which ends at midnight, topped only by the leading total of Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton. Ripken was 40 when he made his last All-Star Game appearance in his final season of 2001 at Safeco Field in Seattle where he homered and was named Most Valuable Player.

“When you get up in age, you’re scrutinized at a higher level,” Ripken said. “You can’t be [an All-Star] just on reputation. You have to go out there and still play the game. When we look at players now, you compare Derek Jeter with a younger Derek Jeter. When we start comparing players to themselves, it’s unfair. All the talk last year about [Jeter] losing a step, not being there defensively and losing some power offensively, I’m sure he internalized that and worked harder in the offseason. He’s a fantastic player and has been for a long time.”

“I’m a big believer that age is just a number and sometimes we get carried away with guys not having success later in their careers,” Smoltz said. “He plays in a great place and he knows how to play the game. The Yankees are being rewarded with a player who has a lot of pride and does not rest on his laurels with the career that he has had.”

Posada leaves quite a legacy

Here is how some of the people who crossed Jorge Posada’s path feel about the former Yankees catcher who made his retirement as a baseball player official Tuesday:

Bernie Williams: “I want to congratulate ‘Jorgito’ on an outstanding career. He was one of the greatest catchers of his era, and one of the best Puerto Rican players to ever play the game. He was a great teammate, is a great friend and human being, and will always be a great Yankee. I was honored to take the field with him every day for so many years, and I cherish all the memories we have together, topped off by those World Series championships. Frankly, I can’t believe that ‘Jorgito’ is actually announcing his retirement before I do. Seriously, I wish him, Laura, and the kids happiness and success in their future. He will be missed by the Yankees family, all of his teammates, coaches, and most of all, the great Yankee fans.”

Andy Pettitte: “Jorge was obviously one of the heart and soul pieces of all those championships with us. Everyone brings their own style to the table but Jorge played with so much fire and intensity, and you have to have all the different mixes of personalities on a team to be able to win the way we did. The intensity that he brought on a daily basis to the field was just amazing to watch. He was one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever played with and a great friend and a great person. The fans loved Jorge because of the passion he played with. He didn’t try to hide it, and he didn’t make up excuses. He’s a stand-up guy, and if he wasn’t able to get it done, he would say ‘I didn’t get it done.’ He handled all the victories and all the success with class and never made excuses for anything. Fans love that. They love to see you be real and passionate. When you’re like that in New York, you’re going to be loved, that’s for sure.”

Tino Martinez: “Jorge was one of the cornerstones of all those championship teams, handling the pitching staff all those years. The way he prepared every single day assured that he became the best player he could possibly be. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest all-time Yankees. It’s very rare that somebody comes up through the minor league system with the Yankees and plays 17 years with the club. He did it the right way as a true professional, a great teammate and a great baseball player.”

Yogi Berra: “Jorge is a good kid, and he had a wonderful career. He has always been one of the toughest and most passionate guys on the club. The Yankees don’t win those championships without him.”

Alex Rodriguez: “Jorge has bled the pinstripes for a long, long time, and he played with a passion that certainly rubbed off on his teammates. To play the number of games that he did, at the level he did, year in and year out, at the toughest position on the field, is a credit to his commitment to his craft. He left everything out on the field, and that’s what made him special.”

Gene Michael: “I remember when we switched Jorge in the minors from second base to catcher. I always got reports of his improvement. Jorge was a worker – someone who was always in shape and who you didn’t have to worry about. Even from the beginning, I loved how selective he was at the plate, his power, his strong arm and the fact that he was a switch-hitter. In my tenure as general manager [from Aug. 1990 through Oct. 1995], I never talked about him in a trade. In the big leagues, he provided big time offensive production, and you never had to platoon him. He was tough, durable and the little things just didn’t bother him. He was a lot like Thurman [Munson] in that way.”

Gene Monahan: “Jorge Posada is far beyond your true, loyal Yankee. Jorge lives this team, organization and city. A family man unmatched, his love for family and team is shown every single day, and I’ve been there every step of the way to witness and testify to it. Jorgie’s sense of humor with his teammates and especially with me, in spite of countless painful days, has always been refreshing and energizing. He always helped us to excel, succeed and enjoy the game the way it’s supposed to be. His career blessed us. On Opening Day 2010, it was Jorge Posada who singlehandedly took his team and the entire Yankee Stadium crowd to a place that was humbling beyond expression, when he lovingly honored me. Every day for the remainder of my life, I will remember and reflect on his love, as he brought it out from our team and our fans. There is no real way to adequately express the emotion of that moment and what it meant to me.”

Joe Torre: “Jorge Posada has been a winner during the season, the postseason and in the clubhouse. He is a loyal and devoted Yankee and is a champion in the game of life. I will always treasure the time I spent with him.”

David Wells: “Jorge was exceptional behind the plate. He gave you so much in terms of his target, working the umpires, and with the level of communication that he had. To me, the pitcher has to be comfortable and in-sync with the catcher. He fought with me, worked with me, and knew the counts. If I didn’t see something that he did, I would shake off his sign, and he would just put down the same sign again. Whenever that happened, I realized that he knew something I didn’t. It speaks to the trust I had in him. He always wanted the pitcher to feel as comfortable as he could. That’s why in my mind, he was the greatest catcher.”

Mike Piazza: “I’d like to congratulate Jorge on a fantastic career. As two catchers playing in New York at the same time, I was able to get to know him over the years and appreciate everything he brought to the table. He was a general behind the plate and delivered in the clutch when it mattered most. I wish him well on his retirement.”

Jason Varitek: “After hundreds of head-to-head games during the regular season and the postseason, I can’t say I respect and admire anyone at our position more than I do Jorge. The hard work and preparation he put into catching is a huge reason he has five championships on his resume. He is a true grinder.”

Arlene Howard (widow of Elston): “Jorge has carried on the tradition of great Yankees catchers most notably Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson. Jorge has lived up to the tradition of great Yankees catchers.”

Paul O’Neill: “Jorge was one of my most favorite teammates of all time. He was into winning. He was mentally tough, physically tough, and he was never scared. It means a lot that he is retiring as a Yankee. As the seasons go on, I think people will realize how important he was to the team, and how big a role he played in the Yankees’ success over the years. He was a great teammate and a fun guy off the field. I had a lot of fun with Jorge. I have all the respect in the world for him. He is going to be considered for the Hall of Fame, and any time people talk about you that way, it tells you what type of player you are.”

Al Leiter: “Jorge was an unbelievable competitor, one of the fiercest competitors I’ve seen in a long time. He was always tough to face when I was pitching. He made me work hard, like when he drew a leadoff walk against me in the 2000 World Series [I still think I got him on that 3-2 pitch!]. On the flip side, I loved having him as a teammate in 2005. He had a special drive and a special will to win, which is a throwback to the old days. You always knew what to expect with Jorge. He wasn’t flashy. He was just immensely talented and a great leader.”

John Flaherty: “Jorge was the ultimate teammate, someone who always put the team before himself. He wasn’t a vocal leader; rather, he let his actions speak for themselves. It was an honor sharing the Yankees clubhouse with him, and my time with him was made even more special since we were both catchers. He handled himself with such class on the field and in the clubhouse. When I think of what the New York Yankees represent, I think of Jorge. Class. Humility. Tough as nails. Fierce competitor. That’s Jorge Posada.”

Derek Jeter: “I know how he feels, I know how much he cares. That’s what people are going to miss. I think that’s what the fans are going to miss. You can’t fake it. The fans appreciated him so much because he cared about winning, he cared about doing his job.”

Mariano Rivera: “It’s hard, playing with teammates like that and they’re retiring. That’s telling you one thing: your time will come. Bernie and Andy and now Jorge. . .it was a blessing to me to play with all these men that I love.”

2 rain delays stall CC’s shot at perfection

Watching the way the Mariners went out one at-bat after another so placidly Monday night, the thought of what CC Sabathia might do to that lineup Tuesday night was downright scary. Seattle has been a mysterious team in the second half. It was a .500 club until 17 games ago, all losses.

The latest came at the hand of Sabathia, who flirted with perfection into the seventh inning. Not even a half-hour rain delay could throw the lefthander off stride. CC continued to polish off his Cy Young Award credentials with seven masterful innings

The buzz in the crowd of 46,132 at Yankee Stadium began early as Sabathia set down the M’s with ease. With four strikeouts the first time through the order, CC only got better as he struck out the side in both the fourth and fifth innings.

The Yankees supplied Sabathia support with Curtis Granderson’s 28th home run, in the fourth, and added two more runs in the fifth on singles by Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Eric Chavez just off the disabled list and Brett Gardner and a run-producing infield out by Derek Jeter.

Challenging Sabathia for excitement, however, was a light show going on in the northwestern skies beyond left field, a strong indication that rain was on the way. It arrived after Sabathia struck out the first batter in the sixth and had the crowd moaning because who knew how long it would last and whether it might force CC out of the game?

It reminded me of David Cone’s perfect game in 1999 at the Stadium against the old Montreal Expos. That game was also halted by a rain delay, but Cone continued. In fact, he said later that he actually pitched better after the break in action because he was forced to re-focus.

Fortunately, the storm did not last long enough to force Yankees manager Joe Girardi to consider replacing Sabathia, which would not have been a popular move to say the least. The crowd let out a howl when CC returned to the mound after the 30-minute delay. He retired the two batters he faced to stay perfect through six innings.

Could he complete a Mount Rushmore of Yankees perfect game pitchers by joining Cone, Don Larsen and David Wells?

A leadoff strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki in the seventh was an encouraging sign even if the Ichiro of 2011 does not match the player we had watched the previous decade. Sabathia then fell behind 2-0 to Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan. CC’s next pitch was 984-mph fastball towards the outside of the plate, but Ryan made solid contact and pulled it into left field for a clean single.

Sabathia was no longer perfect, but he was still commanding. He struck out the next two batters to end the inning and run his K total to a career-high 14.

A second rain delay before the Yankees batted in the seventh stopped play for 14 minutes. This time it appeared Sabathia was affected. After not walking a batter for seven innings, CC walked the bases full in the eighth.

David Robertson was brought in to do his magic trick and nearly succeeded with two strikeouts, but a bobbled grounder by Chavez at third lost any chance for a double play as a run scored on a fielder’s choice.

Still, that single by Ryan would be the only hit as Mariano Rivera completed matters with a perfect ninth that included two more strikeouts that brought the total to 18. That tied the club record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The other time was June 17, 1978 by one pitcher, Ron Guidry, against the Angels.

The run was a mere blemish on the performance by Sabathia, who improved his record to 15-5 with a 2.56 ERA. He has allowed only five runs in his past seven starts totaling 54 2/3 innings and is 6-1 with a 0.82 ERA. Remember, CC didn’t have a victory in his first four starts (0-1, 3 no-decisions), so he is 15-4 in 19 starts since April 23.

And to think that we are going to look back at this season and say somehow CC Sabathia did not make the All-Star team. I mean, didn’t the American League want to win?

Gates for Sunday’s Old Timers’ Day open at 10 a.m.

Fans planning to attend Sunday’s 65th annual Old Timers’ Day are encouraged to get to Yankee Stadium early. Gates will open at 10 a.m. with the Old Timers’ Day ceremonies to start at 11:30 a.m., followed by the traditional, two-inning Old Timers’ Day game. The regularly scheduled inter-league game between the Yankees and the Rockies will have a first pitch of 2:20 p.m. The entire day’s activities will be cablecast on the YES Network.

Bernie Williams and former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre will be making their Old Timers’ Day debuts. “Sweet Lou” will be putting on a Yankees uniform for the first time since 1988. Torre, whose Yankees teams defeated Piniella’s Seattle Mariners in the 2000 and 2001 post-seasons, is still active in the game as Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations.

They will be among 50 former Yankees on hand for the ceremonies. Other headliners among returning Old Timers will be Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, plus the perfect game trio of Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone. The Yankees will also hold a special tribute honoring long-time team trainer Gene Monahan, who will retire at season’s end after 49 years of service to the organization.

In addition, players and coaches from Yankees championship teams of the past will include Dr. Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Moose Skowron, Luis Arroyo, Homer Bush, Brian Doyle, Cecil Fielder, Joe Girardi, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez, Tino Martinez, Lee Mazzilli, Ramiro Mendoza, Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Graig Nettles, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Rivers, Charlie Silvera, Darryl Strawberry, Mel Stottlemyre and Roy White.

Joining the Hall of Famers and other former Yankees on the baselines will be the widows of five legendary Yankees – Arlene Howard (Elston), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish”), Jill Martin (Billy), Diana Munson (Thurman) and Kay Murcer (Bobby).