Tigers done in by Sabathia and bad first inning

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

New York — What’s more frustrating for a hitter — a game where you are simply overpowered by a pitcher, like the Tigers were against Max Scherzer in May, or a game like Friday, where you are flummoxed by ageless, touchy-feely left-hander CC Sabathia?

“They’re both equally frustrating,” said J.D. Martinez, after Sabathia blanked the Tigers over seven innings in the Yankees' 4-0 win. “A pitcher you can’t touch like Scherzer or facing CC where you feel comfortable in the box and all of a sudden you look down and he’s put you out.

“They are definitely both equally frustrating.”

The loss continues a negative road trend for the Tigers. Since May 13, they are 4-13 on the road. In road games not started by Michael Fulmer, they are 0-13.

BOX SCORE: Yankees 4, Tigers 0

“The guy on the other side was pretty good,” Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey said. “You saw his last five or six starts, his ERA is point-something (0.71). Pretty good.”

It was the fifth straight win for the suddenly resurgent Yankees, but the Tigers certainly contributed to their good fortune.

Pelfrey wasn’t razor sharp, by any means (five walks), but he may have deserved a better fate. Three of the four runs he allowed were the direct result of defensive misplays.

“Any time you aren’t scoring runs, you want to point at other parts of the game that didn’t go perfectly,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But in the end, that didn’t come into play.”

Pelfrey loaded the bases in the first inning with one out, and walked his nemesis Brian McCann to force in the first run. McCann came in hitting .465 in 43 at-bats against him.

“Walking in a run, it’s pretty embarrassing to do that,” Pelfrey said. “That first inning, I didn’t do a whole lot to be successful. I was behind in the count, walking guys. I mean, that’s what I get.”

Still, Pelfrey nearly minimized the damage to a single run. He struck out Starlin Castro for the second out. Didi Gregorius then hit an opposite-field liner that left fielder Justin Upton froze on and then couldn’t catch up to.

“I was playing him shallower than the rest of the guys,” Upton said. “Off the bat I thought it wasn’t going to get over my head. I froze, the wind picked it up and took it and I couldn’t catch up to it.

“The scouting report was that, oppo (opposite field), he hits a lot of line drives, so I tried to take that away and he hit a big ball.”

Two more runs scored and a potential third was thrown out at the plate on a brisk relay from Upton to Jose Iglesias to catcher James McCann.

Asked if he thought Upton misplayed the ball, Ausmus was adamant that he did not.

“Like we said in the past, a line drive right at you is the toughest kind to read,” Ausmus said. “I love it when you hold these guys to a standard like they’re not human. I will not blame one player for a game. If you are trying to blame Justin Upton for a game, you’re not going to hear that from me. … We’re a team.”

The Tigers assisted on the Yankees’ fourth run, too. Pelfrey walked Brett Gardner to lead off the third. With Carlos Beltran batting, McCann threw to first trying to pick off Gardner. His throw went into right field and Gardner went to third.

It was the second error since May 30 for the Tigers catcher, who previously went 139 straight games without one.

Beltran singled him home, an unearned run — the ninth credited to Pelfrey this season.

“You know what, in the first inning he gave up a three-spot and he came back and didn’t allow an earned run the rest of the way,” McCann said of Pelfrey. “He turned a rough beginning into a quality start for us.”

From the end of the fourth inning until he was removed with two outs in the seventh, Pelfrey retired 10 straight. In 6.2 innings, he allowed six hits and induced 14 ground-ball outs.

“I tried to keep battling and keep us in the game,” he said. “It didn’t start off the way I wanted and that ended up being the ballgame.”

On a lot of nights, though, it would have been good enough to win.

On this night, though, the Tigers couldn’t crack Sabathia. He blanked them on five hits through seven innings.

“It’s like we talked about with (Justin Verlander),” Ausmus said. “How when guys get to a certain age they have to evolve or reinvent themselves or find a new pitch or a new style of pitching. CC is healthy now and he’s doing different things with the baseball. He’s very effective.”

His fastball, Ausmus said, was firmer (91 mph up to 93). He was able to spot that, and then work his cutter and change-up off it.

“He’s a little bit sneaky,” Ausmus said. “That 91 plays up. He’s cutting the ball and using the change-up and his off-speed stuff had good life down in the zone.”

Not that the Tigers didn’t have chances.

They had runners on first and second with one out in the second, but Upton and McCann couldn’t cash them in.

Ian Kinsler singled and was on second with one out in the third. Cameron Maybin and Miguel Cabrera left him there.

In the fifth, Kinsler and Maybin singled with one out, with Kinsler getting to third on a throwing error by Sabathia.

But Cabrera grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Tigers were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. That’s a bad stat, for sure. This one may be worse: The Tigers had just one baserunner after the fifth — a two-out single by J.D. Martinez in the ninth.

“He didn’t miss a ton over the plate,” Upton said of Sabathia. “He’s on the edges and he keeps his off-speed down in the zone. You can’t count him out. He’s been a good pitcher for a long time. He knows how to pitch.”

It was the fifth time in 12 starts Pelfrey has gotten two runs of support or fewer.

And it was an ominous start to a crucial 10-game road swing.