On regular rest, CC must pitch ahead
Yanks need ace to shift ALCS back to Texas for Game 6
NEW YORK -- It has come down to this for CC Sabathia -- his responsibility in Wednesday afternoon's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series is merely to save his team's season.
The Yankees are in a 3-1 hole to the Rangers in this best-of-seven series, meaning their margin for error no longer exists. The last thing Sabathia wants is to allow his team to have the indignity of watching Texas celebrate the AL pennant at Yankee Stadium.
While it seems Sabathia has been asked to do just about everything in a career that has included big moments for the Indians, Brewers and Yankees, the one thing he has never had to do is start a game when his team could be eliminated.
That is the task that is ahead of him, and Sabathia will try to come up big and punch his team's ticket back to Texas for Game 6, and perhaps even Game 7.
"Well, we have a very good starter on the mound tomorrow, and CC has been there for us all year long," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "He's been there for us the last two years, and I expect CC to be tough tomorrow."
The Yankees hope that Sabathia will pitch like the $161 million man who went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA during the regular season. They hope that he can pitch like the big-game lefty who went 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in the 2009 postseason. What they simply cannot afford is for Sabathia to struggle like he has in his first two starts of the Yankees' playoff run this year.
In Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Twins, Sabathia -- pitching on seven days' rest -- labored, giving up four runs over six innings. But the Yankees found a way to win that one.
Sabathia had to sit on that performance until Game 1 of the ALCS, when, on eight days' rest, he gave up six hits and five runs over four innings, walking four and striking out three. Somewhat miraculously, the Yankees, who were down 5-1 with five outs to go in that game, came back to win. But they haven't won since.
Sabathia, pitching on regular rest for the first time in this postseason, will try to change that.
"I wasn't able to get it done in Game 1, but I'll be ready to go tomorrow," Sabathia said.
The Yankees, to a man, have faith that Sabathia can extend the season.
"We've got CC going tomorrow, and there's no better guy to have on the mound than him -- just win Game 5 and go to Texas," said left fielder Brett Gardner.
"If you want anyone on the mound with your season on the line, it's CC," said first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is likely finished for the season after straining his right hamstring in Game 4. "We're going to try to win tomorrow and see what happens after that."
If Sabathia can rebound and lift his team, it would erase the sour taste that has resonated since Game 1. Not only was the night slipping away from Sabathia, he was powerless to fix it.
"Obviously, I didn't really know what I was doing," Sabathia said. "I hadn't been out there in so long, I didn't know what to correct. There were so many things -- not standing tall, flying open -- because typically I can have a bad inning and then find out what I'm doing wrong and get my mechanics right and be able to correct it during the game.
"But I just didn't really have any clue. I was searching for anything, and at that point I was trying to throw strikes, and I kept battling and staying in the game as long as I could."
So as Sabathia re-enters the mix for Game 5, he is determined to get the series back to Texas.
If Sabathia has the bounce-back game that just about everyone in the Yankees' clubhouse expects, a day you might want to circle as the catalyst is Sunday. That is when Sabathia threw a bullpen session and refocused on all of his mechanics in a productive session with pitching coach Dave Eiland.
"That was really what it was all about -- just making sure I stayed tall, stayed closed and got my fastball command back," Sabathia said. "Every pitch I throw, it comes off my fastball -- my changeup, my cutter, my curveball -- so I need to have my fastball coming in to be able to command both sides of the plate. That's what we focus on a lot in the bullpen."
After being heroic for the Yankees last October in the march to a World Series championship, Sabathia has yet to make the same impact this time around. Instead, his former teammate and close friend Cliff Lee has been a standout performer. But there is still time.
"We are down -- everybody needs to pitch well," Sabathia said. "Of course, I feel like I need to go out and pitch like that every time out. I think you guys know that. Like I said, I wasn't able to get it done in Game 1, but I'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Despite the 3-1 deficit, Sabathia knows that he can't press.
"I can't change anything," Sabathia said. "As soon as I start doing things like that and worrying about what is going on or anything, other than focusing on making sure I'm ready to pitch, I won't change anything. My routine won't change. I'll come in the clubhouse and be the same guy and be ready to pitch."
And eager to finally be able to put Game 1 in the rearview mirror.
"That's the toughest thing about being a starter," Sabathia said. "You've got to wait four days -- especially in a situation like this -- so I'm itching to get back out there. Like I said, I threw a good bullpen [session] a couple of days ago and I'll be ready to go."
The Yankees are counting on it. In fact, their season likely depends on it.