Past is inconsequential to Sabathia
Tabbed for Game 1, Yankees ace zeros in on Angels
NEW YORK -- The Yankees may have spent the better part of the past decade-plus slapping their foreheads trying to handle the Angels, but those memories do not mean much to the most important man in the building for the American League Championship Series opener at 7:57 p.m. ET on Friday.
CC Sabathia will be holding the ball for the first pitch of Friday's Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, and while he is aware there are a phone book full of numbers that say New York hasn't beaten the Halos much, the left-handed ace can't agree, because it's not reality for him.
"Everybody said that we've struggled with them, but this is my first year here, so I don't really know anything about that," Sabathia said.
The Yankees went 5-5 against the Angels in the regular season, including winning three of their last four meetings and securing a series victory at Angel Stadium last month for the first time since 2004.
Thus far, New York has done it without a great deal of assistance from Sabathia. He lost both of his starts against the Halos this season, allowing nine earned runs and 17 hits in 13 1/3 innings through outings on May 2 at Yankee Stadium and July 12 in Anaheim.
Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday that a key for Sabathia will be keeping the Angels off base and -- once they inevitably do get on -- continuing to attack the hitters.
"I think the focus when you play the Angels is not to get wrapped up in their running game," Girardi said. "They're going to run. The bottom line is you've got to keep making pitches. When you get your focus so much on the running game, you don't make the pitches that you need to make."
Sabathia will have his chances to try that approach and reverse his small sample of Yankees misfortune. By securing a three-game sweep of the Twins on Sunday, the Yankees have been afforded plenty of time to align their pitching rotation for the upcoming ALCS.
"I'm excited," Sabathia said. "We know that we've got a long way to go. The Angels are a tough team, so we'll see what happens."
Sabathia thus could not only pitch Game 1, but he may return on short rest in Game 4 in Anaheim, cashing in on the extra days off the Yankees pushed hard to make sure Sabathia had down the stretch.
Working on three days' rest is a task Sabathia lapped up with the Brewers last year, going 2-1 with a 0.83 ERA in his final three regular-season starts. But he ran out of gas in the fourth straight start on short rest, getting hammered by the Phillies for five runs in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
"It definitely helps not having to pitch as much as I did last September," Sabathia said. "I've been feeling pretty fresh."
The upshot of using Sabathia -- and not Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin -- in Game 4 would be that Sabathia then would be available in a potential Game 7 at Yankee Stadium on regular rest.
"We've talked a little bit about what we might do, but we told him to concentrate on Game 1," Girardi said. "That's the most important game, and we'll go from there."
The Angels have always posed something of a problem for Sabathia, who is 5-7 with a 4.72 ERA in 14 career starts against them, all but this season's two while wearing an Indians uniform. He has a pretty good idea why.
"They've got a great balance," Sabathia said. "They've got speed, they've got power. They've got [Chone] Figgins up on top, and when he gets on base and he's running around, you're worried about him. We've just got to go out and try to keep those guys off the bases."
An effort like the one Sabathia turned in against the Twins in Game 1 of the AL Division Series would do a lot to quell any concerns the Yankees might have.
The $161 million ace hurled 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball -- one earned -- while scattering eight hits, doing his part and then taking a seat to watch the Bombers cruise to a 7-2 win.
Sabathia walked none and struck out eight in that effort against Minnesota, walking off the field tipping his cap to an appreciative crowd.
"That's what we envisioned when we signed him -- CC would be pitching in late October and November," Girardi said. "It was the reason we got him. We thought that he could lead this staff and be the ace of this staff, and that's what he has been for us."
Indeed, the Yankees were the hotter team in the Twins series, but that won't do much for them when they bump heads with an Angels club that steamrolled the Red Sox in three games.
"We've just got to keep on playing the game," catcher Jorge Posada said. "They play the game real well, they do a lot of things well. We've just got to pitch and do the things that we know how to do."
What's that they say about momentum being only as good as the next day's starting pitcher? Sabathia knows it all too well, and he will lead the charge in trying to set the tone for the Yankees' march to the World Series behind their own brand of winning baseball.
"That's what we've been doing all year," Sabathia said. "We've been pitching well, playing good defense and getting some timely hits. Hopefully we can keep it going in the ALCS."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.