TORONTO -- The easiest decision that the Yankees will face in the playoffs has already been made. CC Sabathia has been told to prepare to pitch Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Naming Sabathia to kick off the postseason was just a formality for the Yankees after he helped clinch the club's 15th playoff appearance in 16 years, pitching New York to a 6-1 victory over the Blue Jays on Tuesday at Rogers Centre.
"He's a No. 1, an ace," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think it's probably the easiest way to describe him. You get wins, you get outstanding performances. He stops losing streaks. He wins games. He gives you innings, he gives the bullpen a night off. He's tremendous."
With 8 1/3 innings of one-run, three-hit ball against Toronto, Sabathia improved to 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 34 starts this season, his second wearing pinstripes. Girardi said after the game that "you can bank on" Sabathia pitching Game 1, and the left-hander said the honor "never" gets old.
"I went to the playoffs my first year in Cleveland [in 2001] and I took it for granted," Sabathia said. "I didn't get back until Year 8. To be able to get in two years in a row and be able to start Game 1 feels good."
Last year, as the Yankees rushed toward their 27th World Series title, Sabathia was 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in the postseason, limiting opponents to three earned runs or fewer in all five starts.
The Game 1 starter in all three rounds, Sabathia was named the MVP of the AL Championship Series against the Angels, winning both starts with a 1.13 ERA. He could be in line for more honors for his 2010 regular-season performance.
"Two words -- Cy Young. No doubt," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "He's been our horse all year long, he's done a tremendous job, just like everybody in this locker room."
In 2009, Sabathia beat the Twins in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, something he might have the chance to try again, depending on how the postseason matchups shake out. But whatever the assignment, the 30-year-old vows to be prepared.
"I feel like I can handle a little more," Sabathia said. "I was young in Cleveland and would get emotional at times. I wasn't able to handle some starts. But being able to come here and deal with everything throughout the year, it definitely helps me in the playoffs."
In the midst of a visiting clubhouse soaked in Champagne and beer, Sabathia said that he thought the Yankees' up-and-down campaign might actually benefit this year's playoff run.
"Last year, everything came a little easy," Sabathia said. "This year, we've been grinding, and I think that makes for a lot of character on the team. Last year, it kind of felt like things were going our way every time out. It didn't happen like that this year, so hopefully that'll help us in the playoffs."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.