CC Sabathia had not faced the Royals for exactly two years before Tuesday’s game, and much had happened since then.
A Royals’ World Series title, and a couple of disabled-list stints for Sabathia, but one thing didn’t change — a Sabathia victory at Kauffman Stadium.
In the Yankees’ 7-1 victory on Tuesday in the series opener, Sabathia cruised in his best outing of the season.
Naturally, it occurred in Kansas City.
“I love pitching here,” Sabathia said. “It’s my favorite park. I love the fountains, I just love this park. I feel very comfortable here.”
He improved to 13-5 all-time at The K. Sabathia joined Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Bert Blyleven with the most victories by a visiting pitcher.
Among active pitchers, Sabathia’s 20 victories against the Royals is second to Verlander’s 22.
Sabathia has had dominating stretches in a career that includes six All-Star Games, a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring. But he entered Tuesday’s game having surrendered 18 earned runs in his last three starts.
But the Royals, who had emerged from an offensive slumber last week when they won six of seven and brought a four-game winning streak into the game, got few good swings against the big lefty.
“It’s a good lineup,” Sabathia said. “They were really aggressive tonight, and I was just trying to use that against them.”
For six innings, all the Royals could muster against the 36-year-old Sabathia, who was once baseball’s highest paid pitcher, were singles by Jorge Bonifacio, Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler. And Soler was thrown out at second trying to stretch his hit into a double.
A rally attempted to form in the seventh, when Eric Hosmer opened with a hustle double to right. Sabathia struck out Salvador Perez and Bonifacio before walking Soler and surrendering an infield single to Alex Gordon.
The bases were loaded when the Yankees called upon Tyler Clippard to face Merrifield. Clippard won the battle when he recorded a checked-swing strikeout.
The Royals averted the shutout in the ninth when Bonifacio, who had singled with one out, scored on Merrifield’s fielder’s choice.
The Royals wasted a couple of inning-ending defensive gems. Mike Moustakas dived to his right and gloved a tricky hop off the bat of rookie slugger Aaron Judge in the third.
Alcides Escobar’s diving stop of Brett Gardner’s grounder prevented a run in the sixth. The play was of some consolation to Escobar, who twice lined out to third baseman Chase Headley.
But the Yankees didn’t have to hit their way through the Royals. They went over them against slumping starter Jason Hammel.
Hammel, who took the team’s lone defeat last week when he was knocked around for seven runs and 13 hits at Tampa Bay, wasn’t much better Tuesday.
“I got ahead of hitters, I just couldn’t put them away,” Hammel said. “They worked their way back into a count and I would just make a mistake.”
Two big ones, and No. 9 hitter Chris Carter was involved in both.
Carter stroked a single to left to open the third. A walk to Gardner brought up Gary Sanchez, who powered Hammel’s 92 mph fastball 428 feet over the center-field wall for his third homer of the season.
In the fourth, Hammel retired the first two batters before surrendering a single to Didi Gregorius, which brought up Carter, who has authored a mostly all-or-nothing career with two seasons of at least 37 home runs and two of at least 200 strikeouts.
This time, Carter got it all, and his home run to center made it 5-0. The Yankees’ romp had started and was in good hands with Sabathia, pitching in his favorite ballpark.