The beginning of the end for C.C. Sabathia came when Brett Myers stepped to the plate.
Sabathia is a big man at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds with an even bigger fastball that zips across the plate at 95 miles per hour. He is a power pitcher who pounds the strike zone, a guy who single-handedly put the Milwaukee Brewers on his broad shoulders and carried them to the playoffs as the ace of their pitching staff. Sabathia is one of the most feared pitchers in baseball.
And while all of that was more than enough to overpower Philadelphia Phillies sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, who both struck out twice against Sabathia, Myers wasn’t the least bit intimidated.
Instead, Myers took an aggressive stance in the batter’s box, crouching like a boxer ready for a fight.
Sabathia got ahead in the count with two quick strikes. But he couldn’t get strike three.
Because Myers, an admitted poor-hitting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies who is supposed to be an easy out at the plate, stood in there during the bottom of Thursday’s second inning and did what fans in a tough-minded city like Philadelphia always appreciate.
Myers fouled off one Sabathia fastball, then another, then another – the roar from the 46,208 fans who made up the largest crowd ever at Citizens Bank Park growing louder with each of Sabathia’s failures to record strike three.
It never came.
Myers went from an 0-2 count, which put him on the brink becoming the inning’s final out, to drawing a walk during a nine-pitch at-bat. Two hitters later, with the bases filled with Phillies, Shane Victorino rocketed a grand slam deep over the left field wall and the Phillies were on their way to a 5-2 victory over the Brewers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
It doesn’t happen without Myers displaying the will of a warrior.
“I know I’m a terrible hitter,” said Myers, who later lined a single in the fifth inning and finished 1-for-2 at the plate. “I really can’t explain it.”
Just call it one of those special moments when a player discovers he can do more than he thought capable in a pressure-packed situation.
“Baseball’s weird like that,” Myers said, “where a guy can go up there who can’t hit a lick and battle a guy like C.C. I was able to keep battling as best I could.”
That wasn’t a one-time deal for Myers.
He did the same thing at the plate in the fourth inning, fighting Sabathia tooth and nail after falling into another 0-2 count before Myers flied out to medium center field. As he returned to the dugout, he got a loud, standing ovation from an appreciative home crowd.
Just about everyone, Phillies hitters included, talked about Sabathia like he was invincible. And it was no wonder, as Sabathia went 11-2 for the Brewers with a 1.65 ERA since Milwaukee picked him up in a midseason trade with Cleveland. To be fair, he was pitching on three days rest instead of the normal four for the fourth straight game.
And he clearly didn’t have his best stuff Thursday.
But he was able to work out of other jams in other innings. Just not the biggest one, which was triggered by the smallest bat in the Phillies lineup.
“I had two strikes on him, 0-2,” Sabathia said of his first tangle with Myers. “Ended up walking him.”
Sabathia went on to criticize himself for not finishing off hitters and not finishing off innings, at a time when the Brewers were counting on him to prevent them from falling into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five series.
“You can blame this loss squarely on me,” Sabathia said.
No, blame it on his counterpart across the way.
Myers not only showed what a bulldog he can be on the mound by working out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning to wind up giving the Brewers two runs on two hits through his seven innings. He proved at the plate just how dangerous his competitiveness can be when he really digs in.