ARLINGTON, Texas - Just how much of an advantage will it be for the Yankees not to see Rangers ace Cliff Lee until Game 3 of the American League Championship Series? CC Sabathia will have a lot to do with that.
Pitch well and lead his team to a victory in Game 1 tonight, and the Yankees will be in the driver's seat.
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"I think it is important in any series to get off to a good start and try to jump on a team early," Sabathia said Thursday before the Yankees' late-afternoon workout here.
But a loss would put pressure on Game 2 starter Phil Hughes to not put the Yankees in an 0-2 hole with Lee looming in Game 3.
Lee ran his career postseason record to 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA by winning Game 5 against the Rays Tuesday night.
But it's not as if Sabathia has been a slouch in October.
"We've got the big man on the hill,'' Nick Swisher said, "and any time you've got big CC up there, you feel pretty good about your chances."
Sabathia went 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five postseason starts last season, including 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA in three Game 1 starts. That included a 4-1 victory in Game 1 against the Angels in last year's ALCS, in which he was the MVP. He allowed one run and four hits in eight innings.
"You can't ask for him to do much more than he's done," Game 3 starter Andy Pettitte said. "I expect him to be unbelievable this series. I think he's going to be great. He's a horse. He's a true ace. He's done exactly what this organization was hoping and wishing that he'd be able to do when he came over here. I think he's been even more than they thought."
Although he won his first 2010 postseason start Oct. 6 against the Twins in Minneapolis, Sabathia was not sharp, allowing four runs and five hits in six innings. He took the mound on seven days' rest that night.
Tonight's start comes on eight days' rest. Pitchers with too much rest often say they feel too "strong" when they take the mound, causing them to overthrow.
"That last time [Oct. 6] . . . I threw one bullpen," Sabathia said yesterday. "This time I threw two bullpens and flat ground twice, and I'll do another flat ground today. Last time I was a little too strong and it [was] tough for me to throw strikes."
Pitching coach Dave Eiland said he already had talked to Sabathia and planned to do so again last night about harnessing that energy.
"We did as much as we could physically, but it's also a mindset," Eiland said. "It's less-is-more theory, because when a guy's really strong, he's trying to load up in the back and you get out of your delivery and your command's affected, instead of staying within yourself and letting it happen out front. It's like a golfer: If he swings as hard as he can, he's going to spray it."
For the second straight series, the Yankees are starting on the road. They handled it well in the ALDS - visiting teams went 7-1 in the two AL series - and Sabathia isn't worried about this one.
"We're a veteran ballclub," he said. "We knew that we had to win games on the road to win the series. For me, I don't pitch any different in any other park, and it seems not to have affected us up to this point."