CC Sabathia has been a very good pitcher since he came to the Yankees, but that changes when David Price is the opposing pitcher.
They had met five times going into Thursday night and the Yankees had lost all five of those games. Sabathia rarely pitched well in those games, Price usually did pitch well and that made the rubber game of the three game series an uncomfortable prospect for the Yankees.
As if that wasn't enough to make life difficult for Sabathia, Joe Girardi also chose to start Eduardo Nunez at third base so that Alex Rodriguez could be spared a little wear and tear. In what's fast becoming the worst joke in the Bronx, Nunez lived right up to his "Eduardo Scissorhands" label by butchering plays to hand the Rays free runs in each of the first two innings.
Nunez misplayed a grounder in the first inning and then threw a potential double play ball into right field in the second inning to give Tampa a 2-0 lead. That's now four errors for Nunez on the season and he's going to have to start hitting a lot better than he has to this point to justify continually running him out there to put the team at risk because of the way he hurts them in the field.
The idea of Nunez, i.e. a utility player who allows you to spin others through the designated hitter spot without killing your offense, is far better than the reality of Nunez. Some of it has to be how much he's moving around the field, but there has to come a point where you look at the evidence and say that he might just not be an infielder no matter how much you want to make him one.
Scissorhands made it look like a bad night was in the offing, but his errors turned out to be the only way the Rays could reach Sabathia. He pitched through the eighth inning, struck out 10 and continued the hot streak that has cut his ERA from 6.75 to 3.51 in the five starts since his second game of the season.
And all five of those starts have been wins for Sabathia. The big fella had plenty to do with the win all by himself on Thursday, but it didn't hurt that Robinson Cano continued his own season resurrection.
Cano hit a two-run homer in the fifth, had three hits overall and ran his hitting streak to eight games while raising his average to .286. He had dropped to .255 after a hitless game to start the month, but has been tearing things up from that point.
The Yankees need that Cano to reach the heights they want to reach this season, just as they need Sabathia to tear through lineups the way he tore through the Rays on Thursday night. The 5-3 win gave the Yankees a series win over the team that's increasingly looking like their biggest rival in the AL East this season as Boston continues to experiment with lighting itself on fire.
With Cano and Sabathia, the Yankees should feel good about their chances in that struggle even with Nunez playing the field with as much aplomb as an elephant dancing a ballet.