- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

MILWAUKEE | The two scenes, one public and one private, succinctly captured the effect CC Sabathia is having on the National League in general, the Milwaukee Brewers since the trade and the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

As the pounding drums of the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero” built, calling Sabathia out of the Brewers’ dugout for the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals and bringing Miller Park’s sellout crowd of 43,209 to its feet, the show was all about the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner. The Nationals were just bit players in it.

A few minutes later, away from the noise, was a team that entered the day on perhaps its best run of the year. Having seen Sabathia stall that run in 103 pitches, the Nationals were mostly left to describe him in hand gestures.

Jason Bergmann walked by and tipped an imaginary cap. Hitting coach Lenny Harris weaved his right hand from one direction to the other, blowing air out of his mouth to mimic the sound of the left-hander’s pitches slicing by.

The reality is this: Sabathia is on an otherworldly run right now, transforming himself from a cocksure fireballer to a domineering tactician. And if there isn’t much the rest of the league has been able to do about it since the Brewers acquired him from the Cleveland Indians last month in hopes of making their first playoff run in 26 years, there certainly was little Washington could do on Friday night.

Sabathia shut out the Nationals in a 5-0 Brewers win, continuing to captivate a beleaguered baseball town. In the process, he stopped a Washington lineup that had manufactured wins in six of its last seven games and plainly set a standard for Nationals rookie pitcher Collin Balester.

“I didn’t think he was amazingly unhittable or anything like that. But every pitch I saw today was a strike,” outfielder Willie Harris said. “I didn’t see one ball today. He didn’t throw me one.”

The 28-year-old won his ninth straight, six of them with the Brewers. He threw his fourth complete game for Milwaukee, posting a shutout to go with the one he dropped on the St. Louis Cardinals on July 23.

It was clear early on, as Sabathia mowed down the Nationals’ order in the top of the first and Balester issued a five-pitch walk to Rickie Weeks (the first batter he faced), that the young right-hander wouldn’t be spending the evening in Sabathia’s stratosphere.

He gave up four runs (three earned) in five innings and struggled with a greasy curveball that dove too low on more than one occasion, initially resulting in a wild pitch that moved Weeks to second base in the first inning.

That mistake led to a run when Ryan Zimmerman made a backhanded stop of Ryan Braun’s grounder, only to have Weeks slide around his tag attempt before he threw Braun out at first.

“I thought I tagged him,” Zimmerman said. “He was right there. Obviously [umpire Marty Foster] thought he was safe, and I thought I got him. I was pretty sure I got him.”

Manager Manny Acta unsuccessfully argued that Zimmerman had tagged Weeks, and on the next pitch, Prince Fielder punched a belt-high fastball to center for the game’s first run.

The next two innings brought more struggles for Balester. He left a fastball up to Mike Cameron in the second inning, and Cameron hit it to left for a solo homer. In the third, Balester gave up singles to J.J. Hardy and Braun, then compounded the problem with a pair of mistakes.

“The first couple innings I was trying to do too much, and you can’t pitch that way,” Balester said. “You’ve got to pitch down in the zone, and I wasn’t able to do that.”

That was plenty for Sabathia, who sliced through Washington’s lineup with an air of predictability. The Nationals had a collective 89 at-bats against Sabathia before Friday, and with 45 of those at-bats currently on the disabled list, he was free to feast on a lineup of young hitters who had little clue how to defend themselves.

He had the Nationals on edge all night, sometimes flipping curveballs underneath their bats, other times remaining content to let them grind his fastball right at one of his infielders.

Only 26 of his 103 pitches were balls, and aside from Lastings Milledge and Jesus Flores (who each had two hits off him), Sabathia had his way.

But in a night where Washington had few answers, Cristian Guzman might have summed it up best.

“First place,” he said when asked where Sabathia ranked among pitchers he’d seen this year. “He’s pretty good.”

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