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Sabathia, Yankees ready for 'do-or-die' Game 5

"Game 23" to decide postseason fates of Yankees and Orioles
10/12/2012 1:41 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

CC Sabathia, brilliant in Game 1, takes the ball for the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS.(AP)
For the Yankees and Orioles, the 2012 season series has now become a “Best-of-23,” and it will be the 23rd and final game that determines who goes home and who goes on to face Detroit in the American League Championship Series.

The Orioles won Game 4 of the ALDS by a 2-1 margin in 13 innings on Thursday night, and after back-to-back nights of bonus baseball in the Bronx, the series comes down to a winner-take-all Game 5 at 5 p.m. on Friday – a game that Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn’t surprised to see.

“It’s kind of what we’ve been used to the whole year; it’s been a grind the whole year, and it’s been a fight to stay ahead of (Baltimore) all year, so it’s pretty fitting,” Girardi said following Game 4. “They’ve done a good job over there.”

The Yankees will have their ace, CC Sabathia, on the hill Friday evening, and Buck Showalter will counter with Jason Hammel. The two engaged in an epic duel in Game 1 Sunday night, both allowing just two earned runs in a game that the Yankees eventually won 7-2.

Sabathia nearly went the distance in that game, throwing 8 2/3 innings for the Yankees, and said on Thursday night that come Game 5, he will look once again to heavily use the changeup that was so successful in Game 1.

“It’s always important for me. It’s a pitch I’ve developed since I’ve been in the big leagues, and it’s become a great pitch for me,” Sabathia said. “I have to be able to use it in certain counts and throughout the game. I will definitely use it and have to use it as a weapon.”

Sabathia is unbeaten in his last seven postseason starts (dating back to the 2009 World Series), but he knows that all of that history is out the window come game time.

“It means absolutely nothing; tomorrow is tomorrow,” Sabathia said following Game 4. “Games are in the past. It’s time to go, and this is what you play for. That’s a good team over there we’ve been battling all year, so hopefully I can go out and have a good performance and keep us in the game and give us a chance to win.”

Joe Girardi used his entire bullpen on Thursday night, and said that Game 5 will be “all hands on deck” as well – but whether or not that includes Joba Chamberlain won’t be known likely until Friday afternoon.

Chamberlain suffered an elbow contusion after being hit by a broken bat in the 12th inning of Game 4, and while X-rays were negative, Girardi wasn’t sure if Joba would be available, or even if the Yankees might make a move to replace him on the roster if he is unable to go.

As far as the lineup goes, Girardi said following Game 4 that while several players have struggled throughout the ALDS, he hadn’t thought about any possible changes.

“I always tell you that I go home and study the pitcher, and I know our guys, so I’ll make decisions tomorrow,” he said. “We play a little bit earlier so I’ll have to study a little bit sooner … but I’m not going to rush into any decisions because I don’t have to.”

Girardi hopes to have Derek Jeter, who was the designated hitter in Game 4 after fouling a ball off his foot in Game 3, back at shortstop for the deciding game, but like Chamberlain, Jeter’s status may be a last-minute decision.

“We’ll have to see how he feels; my hope is he can play shortstop, but I’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

Girardi also said Thursday night that putting Eduardo Nunez at shortstop after pinch-hitting for Jayson Nix in the ninth inning had nothing to do with Jeter’s ability to play shortstop, but rather his own desire not to lose the DH.

Come Friday, that may change, as it’s win or go home…but no matter what happens, the skipper knows that all it might take is one breakthrough to send his team on to the next round.

“It’s playoff baseball, and the games are extremely tight,” he said, “and with the exception of one inning, it’s been really hard to come by hits. Usually the difference in these games is one hit.”

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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