Sabathia struggles – period

Steve Henson

PHILADELPHIA – CC was a carbon copy, all right. But not of the dominant pitcher who single-(left)handedly hoisted the Milwaukee Brewers on that flatbed truck he calls a back and carried them to the playoffs.

No, this CC Sabathia replicated C.C. Sabathia, who had periods after his initials and prolonged wildness in last year's ALCS, getting tattooed twice by the Boston Red Sox. C.C. had no idea where his pitches would end up, sometimes squeezing the ball so hard it must have been oblong coming out of his hand.

CC was supposed to be over that. Yet there was C.C. again. All that was missing was Chief Wahoo on his cap.

As a result, they were partying in Maui during the Philadelphia Phillies' 5-2 victory Thursday that put the NL East champions one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.

OK, so they always are partying in Maui. But imagine the celebration when island product Shane Victorino belted a grand slam in the second inning, one of six extra-base hits in 3 2/3 innings against Sabathia, who labored through 98 pitches, including 19 in two monumentally frustrating at-bats by opposing pitcher Brett Myers, he of the .047 batting average the last three seasons.

Sabathia visibly sagged after Myers' nine-pitch walk with two out in the second, and he promptly walked Jimmy Rollins on four pitches to load the bases. Victorino took ball one, then strike one, fouled off a pitch, then drove a cut fastball into the left-field seats, capping the five-run inning. Victorino also doubled twice, and the Phillies had seven extra-base hits, equaling a team postseason record.

"This game for me was about not finishing," Sabathia said. "I'd get two outs and not finish. I had two strikes on Myers and couldn't finish. I had two strikes on Victorino and couldn't finish."

And the Brewers likely are finished. Yes, they head home, where they were 49-32 during the regular season. But their offense is almost nonexistent and has been for a while.

"It's not a mystery; we haven't swung the bats well for a month," acting manager Dale Sveum said. His team had two hits against Myers in seven innings, one night after managing two hits in eight innings against Cole Hamels. The Brewers are batting .115 in the series.

"Right now I'm just kind of garbage," said slugger Prince Fielder, who was hitless in the two games at Citizens Bank Park and grounded out with two on and two out in the eighth, the Brewers' best scoring opportunity besides Corey Hart grounding into a double play with the bases loaded to end the first.

Sabathia was their only hope, Mr. Big Stuff. He'll be a free agent after the season and is expected to command more than $100 million in a multiyear deal. This game might have shaved his take down a tad. But somebody should have seen the meltdown coming.

Last year he was 19-7 in the regular season and walked only 37 in 241 innings. This year he was 11-2 with the Brewers after they acquired him in a July 7 trade. His control was impeccable.

So how does he explain 22 walks in 25 career postseason innings? The 7.92 ERA? It's not a command issue; there's something going on upstairs. He admitted that last year he went into the playoffs "thinking that I had to throw no-hitters and shutouts every game. I think that's why you saw me pressing."

So instead of trying to throw the ball through a wall, he went soft, throwing mostly breaking balls and changeups. He said it had nothing to do with making his fourth consecutive start on three days rest. Maybe his adjustment simply was too drastic, like a driver overcorrecting after losing control behind the wheel.

"I don't think I was too excited," he said. "It didn't seem anything like last year, to be honest with you."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was the manager in Cleveland when Sabathia broke into the big leagues in 2001, had a clear idea of his former pitcher's problem, but he mostly kept it to himself.

"The only thing I've got to say about CC is he threw more changeups and breaking balls than I expected him to throw," he said. "That's all I want to say about him because he might pitch against us again."

That would be in a Game 5. That would take two Brewers' victories. That is extremely unlikely.

Sabathia needed to even the series. He needed to be CC, not C.C.

"I needed to come out and pitch a good game," he said. "And I didn't do that. You can blame this loss squarely on me."