In the years of George Steinbrenner’s reign, tonight’s game against the Orioles would be stamped ``must win,’’ or expect a Tampa tantrum to develop. The prospect of three straight defeats, with two against the lowly Orioles, would not be ignored.

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The Yankess will not be hearing from the close to 80-year-old Steinbrenner. But it is never too early to end any kind of a losing skid, so CC Sabathia (2-1, 3.00) finds himself in something of a stopper role against Baltimore. The team’s ace is also coming off a bad performance against the A’s in Oakland. He walked six batters against a soft lineup and gave up a three-run homer to Kurt Suzuki.

Sabathia owns the Orioles with a lifetime mark of 9-1 and a 2.55 earned run average. Baltimore righthander Jeremy Gutherie (0-2, 3.46) may be winless, but he has thrown the ball well for a team in the doldrums. He hasn’t been so hot against the Yankees with a lifetime record of 3-6 and a 4.78 ERA.