Yankees turn to Sabathia to save the season

Despite the 0-3 deficit, Yankees' ace knows it's one game at a time
10/17/2012 1:02 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

CC Sabathia will take the hill for his and the Yankees' second "win or go home" game this October.(AP)
By now, all the criticisms, negative anecdotes, and second-guessings about the Yankees’ offense this postseason have been cycled over and over again…and at this point they no longer matter, because the fate of the Yankees season now boils down to the simple phrase “win or go home.”

For all the drama the first eight games of the 2012 postseason have brought, there’s only one fact that now matters: in order to win their 41st American League pennant, the Yankees will need to win four straight games against the Detroit Tigers and become just the second team ever to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game postseason series.

That mission starts tonight, and the man on the mound is CC Sabathia, who hasn’t dropped a decision in his last eight postseason starts, has allowed just three earned runs in 17.2 postseason innings this October, and including the playoffs is now 8-1 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 starts following a Yankees loss this season.

Sabathia said before ALDS Game 5, a game in which he went the distance and allowed just one run on four hits, that he thrives on pressure situations like that one, saying “this is what you play for.” And while that statement came prior to a game where the Yankees’ season would have ended with a loss, it also came before a game in which a win meant moving on to the next round.

Tonight, however, is a game in which a win simply means the Yankees are 25 percent of the way towards climbing a mountain that has only been conquered once in 100-plus years of baseball – but if there’s anyone who won’t be fazed by the overall magnitude of that situation, it’s Sabathia.

“I guess I should feel a little pressure or something like that, but I don't. I mean, I feel like that every time out. It can be Game 1, it can be Game 15, it doesn't matter….I feel like I need to go out and win every time out,” Sabathia said after his ALDS Game 5 gem. “And I think that takes a lot of pressure off me, the outside pressure off me. I put so much pressure on myself to go out and perform well that I expect it.”

That statement was made five days ago, and hours before Tuesday’s loss that put the Yankees in a seemingly insurmountable hole, he echoed those sentiments but still reminded everyone that you’re only as good as your last impression.

“I always want to go out and try to shut the other team down and give us as many opportunities to score,” Sabathia said in a press conference prior to Game 3. “I am definitely looking forward to getting a chance to pitch in this series; I felt pretty good the last two or three times out and, you know, felt good in the bullpen, so I just look to continue to build off of that…but as I always say, whether good or bad, I always put the last one behind me. I am ready for (Game 4).”

One game at a time now seems to be the mantra for the Yankees, and it almost has to be. After all, coming back from down 0-3 would be historic, and depending on how you look at it, the Yankees could have both history and karma either working for or against them.

On the conspiracy theory side, you have the fact that while the Yankees have come back to win four of the seven post-season series that have seen them in an 0-2 hole, the other three have all seen them fall into an 0-3 hole and then gone on to get swept the next night.

But on the flip side, Yankees pitching this October has yielded just a 2.25 ERA and a .215 batting average against, and despite the fact that the offense has struggled, you can’t discount that the team has scored 12 of their 21 runs this postseason in the ninth inning or later – a stat that may frustrate fans to no end, but proves that you can’t truly count the Yankees out until the 27th out is recorded.

As for karma, well, the Yankees know what overcoming an 0-3 deficit looks like, as they were unfortunately on the business end the only time it was ever done. Yes, the 2004 ALCS was a long time ago, and the active members of the “Core Four” are the only current Yankees who were also in pinstripes back then, but it can still serve as a source of inspiration – and it almost has to, because as it stands, the Yankees are in that hole, and in danger of being swept out of the postseason for the first time since 1980.

But for the first time ever, they can look at their deficit and truly know that it can be overcome, and just like the 2004 Red Sox, the 2012 Yankees will have to do it the same way: one day at a time.

“You have to put it all behind you; what has happened has happened, and you have to find a way to score runs tomorrow,” manager Joe Girardi said after Game 3. “You have your ace on the mound, and you see what happens. Win a game tomorrow, and then let's see what happens.”

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