ARLINGTON -- When the Yankees marched through the postseason and won the World Series last year, CC Sabathia carried the title of tone-setter. So far this October, his teammates have been returning the favor during the attempt at a title defense, lifting him like he did for them a year ago.
For the second time in his two starts in this postseason, Sabathia did not pitch well. And for the second time, the Yankees won anyway.
The lefty pinned his team in a five-run hole in Friday night's Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, but his team staged the type of epic comeback that will go down in Yankees lore. By the end of the night, it was Yankees 6, Rangers 5, and a no-decision for Sabathia.
In Game 1 of the AL Division Series, Sabathia earned a win against the Twins despite giving up four runs (three earned) over six innings.
"They've bailed me out twice. That's really no excuse. I need to go out and pitch better next time out," Sabathia said. "It's just disappointing to not be able to do what I did last year, but we're still in a good position. After the way these guys battled, I was still in this game tonight."
If the Yankees can find a silver lining in Sabathia's shaky start, it is this: When Sabathia takes the ball in Game 5 -- assuming there is one -- he will be on the standard four days' rest.
This is no small factor if you take Sabathia's postseason history into account.
Sabathia's ERA rose to 5.83 in the five postseason starts in which he had six days of rest or more after he allowed five earned runs in his four-inning stint.
"I just had no command," Sabathia said. "I couldn't execute a game plan because I couldn't throw the ball over the plate. I was just trying to battle and throw strikes. I felt great, I felt strong. I just had no fastball command, and everything I throw comes off my fastball."
Did the long layoff contribute to the lack of command?
"I guess so," said Sabathia, who was pitching on eight days' rest. "I don't want to make any excuses or anything like that, but I just couldn't throw the ball over the plate."
In his start against the Twins, Sabathia was on seven days' rest.
"This was way worse than Game 1 in Minnesota," said Sabathia. "I had command at least in Game 1 in Minnesota. Like I said, I couldn't even execute a game plan because I couldn't get the ball over the plate."
Sabathia has also struggled on five days' rest in the postseason, notching a 4.76 ERA in three starts.
Interestingly, in Sabathia's 12 career postseason starts, just one has been on four days' rest. That was one of his best, as he gave up one run over 6 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS against the Twins.
"I am looking forward to being able to throw my regular bullpen and being in a kind of a normal situation heading into my next start," said Sabathia.
The Yankees have no doubt whatsoever that Sabathia will be ready to answer the bell for Game 5 on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
"It was great because he's not likely to have two of those in a row, so next time out he's going to be great," said left fielder Brett Gardner. "For us to win that game, I can't say how big it was."
As for Friday's outing against the Rangers, it was one of Sabathia's worst in October. He threw 36 pitches in the first inning, pinning his team in a 3-0 hole. Those runs came on a three-run shot by Josh Hamilton. Sabathia prevented the inning from getting worse when he made a lunging tag to get Nelson Cruz at the plate on a wild pitch.
"I was going to cover and then I saw it bounce back off the wall really quick and I just tried to get there," said Sabathia. "You've got to give [home-plate umpire Gerry Davis] credit -- he made a great call. That was huge. At the time, I was disappointed just because I was all over the place and bases loaded, but I mean looking back on it now, it's pretty big."
Sabathia was at 67 pitches after three innings, while C.J. Wilson reeled off just 36 over that same span.
Sabathia thought he had settled down, only to give up a two-run double to Michael Young in the fourth.
"It deflated me," Sabathia said. "Obviously it didn't deflate these guys. I was just disappointed in myself with two outs, giving up the hit to [Elvis] Andrus and the double to Michael Young."
Statistically speaking, Sabathia has had two outings in a postseason in which he struggled more than Friday's start. While with the Indians, he gave up eight runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the 2007 ALCS against the Red Sox. He also lost Game 5 of that series, four runs over six innings. Boston came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Cleveland in seven games.
Another postseason outing Sabathia would like to forget was Game 2 of the 2008 National League Division Series. Then with the Brewers, Sabathia gave up five runs over 3 2/3 innings against the Phillies. It was his only start of that postseason, as Milwaukee was eliminated by Philadelphia.
But these Yankees are a proven champion that doesn't rely on one player -- not even one as accomplished as Sabathia.
"I think CC had 20 balls in the first inning, and that's usually about six innings of work for him," said manager Joe Girardi. "He was definitely off today, but didn't give up 10 runs. He kept it to five and we were able to come back."
In five days, Sabathia will try to start pitching like himself again.