MINNEAPOLIS - The Yankees are ready to ride their horse a second straight postseason.

How he gets out of the gate this year very well could determine how long this playoff ride lasts.

CC Sabathia, the star of the Yankees' rotation in 2009 as they captured their 27th World Series, will be counted on again as they go for No. 28.

The 6-7, 290-pound Sabathia, who went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA this season to become a leading Cy Young Award contender, takes the ball Wednesday night for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

"He's our horse, he's our Cy Young," Jorge Posada said.

"We have the utmost confidence in our team but especially when CC's on the mound," Mark Teixeira said. "He's been our ace for the last two years. Every time out, we expect him to do great things and that's what he's done."

Sabathia, 30, went 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA last postseason in five starts, with two of those coming on three days' rest. Manager Joe Girardi formally announced Tuesday what had been speculated for weeks: that Sabathia will pitch Game 4, if the series gets that far, on three days' rest.

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"Hopefully, we won't have to do that," Sabathia said, meaning the Yankees would have swept the series.

But the prospect of doing so doesn't bother Sabathia.

"I am definitely excited," he said.

Last postseason, Sabathia went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts on short rest. In his career, he's 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA on three days' rest.

"I think it's because I am not as strong and know that I can't go out there and overthrow, I have to stay within myself," Sabathia said. "I think pitching on three days' rest really helps me mentally because I can't go out there and try to overthrow the ball because I know I don't have it."

Because last postseason is not fresh in people's minds, some might not remember that Sabathia was seen as one of the biggest question marks going into the 2009 playoffs because of a 2-3 record, with a 7.92 ERA, in five playoff starts.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," Sabathia said of his postseason success last season. "I think in the past, I was feeling like I had to pitch a shutout or pitch a no-hitter to win the game and be the hero. But we have so many great guys out there, I can go out and just keep us in the game and we have a good chance to win."

Derek Jeter, a top postseason performer much of his career, also used equine language in describing the lefthander.

"He's been our guy," Jeter said. "He's capable of coming in and shutting teams down. Does he do it every time? No. But he's got that capability. He's a power pitcher, he comes up with big strikeouts when he needs them. He's been our horse all year, all last year. We rely on him a lot."

Twins centerfielder Denard Span said "everything" in response to a question about what makes Sabathia difficult to hit against.

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"He's a tough pitcher all the way around," Span said. "He has the nasty slider and you just have to try and take what you can get from him because he usually doesn't give you too much."

Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy, a teammate of Sabathia's in Milwaukee in 2008, was asked if, given the uncertainty of the Yankees' rotation, Game 1 might be bigger for the Yankees than the Twins.

"It might be, yeah," Hardy said. "He might have a lot more pressure on him than he should . . . I don't know the rotation [after him], but if we can get a win with CC going the first day, that would be big."

One thing Sabathia doesn't want to hear about is uncertainty when it comes to the Yankees' staff.

"I don't see what you guys are saying about uncertainty," Sabathia said. "Andy Pettitte is the best pitcher in the playoffs in the history of baseball . I think our rotation stacks up pretty good against anybody."

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As the saying goes, it all starts at the top.