On the eve of an ALDS Game 5 no one in the Yankees' universe wanted any part of, CC Sabathia exuded all the confidence you'd ask from an ace.
"It's go time,'' he said. "This is what you play for.''
And largely because of Sabathia, the Yankees will play on.
More than honoring his status as staff ace, the lefthander pitched the Yankees into the ALCS against Detroit with a dominating complete-game effort in a 3-1 victory over the Orioles Friday night in front of 47,081 chilly fans at the Stadium.
"CC was unbelievable tonight,'' said Raul Ibañez, whose single off Jason Hammel in the fifth broke a scoreless tie. "That performance was a tremendous warrior, a tremendous competitor. He willed that to happen. That's what it looked like.''
"All you have to do is look at Oakland last night and what happened there with Verlander,'' Showalter said. "There is really only about six or seven true number one starters in baseball . . . and [Sabathia] certainly is one of those guys that can dominate and make a difference in just a pure 'W' or 'L.' That's why guys like him are in such demand.''
Afterward Sabathia said: "It is what I am here for. I feel like I need to go out and win every time out.'' He was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 172/3 innings in the series.
"I haven't even thought about Detroit,'' Derek Jeter said of the team that beat the Yankees in five games in the ALDS last season. "I've been so consumed with what went on with Baltimore, I'll give them some thought tomorrow. We know how good they are.''
That's true of the Orioles, too.
In a pitching-dominated, razor-close ALDS, the Yankees hit .211 and the Orioles batted .187. Yankees starters had a 2.04 ERA; Baltimore starters posted a 2.00 ERA. Game 1 was tied at 2 entering the ninth and was followed by three one-run games and a two-run game -- two of which went at least 12 innings -- in which neither team ever scored more than three runs.
Just like the regular season, when they repeatedly were tied for first by the Orioles in the final month but never were passed, the Yankees won the ALDS by the smallest of margins. They wound up with a 12-11 edge over the Orioles in 2012.
"You think about it; we played 23 games and there were four runs that separated us,'' said Joe Girardi, who created plenty of pregame buzz by benching Alex Rodriguez for Game 5. "They never went away. People thought they were going to go away; they never went away.''
Ibañez, who hit the tying and winning homers in Game 3, singled home a run in the fifth after Mark Teixeira singled and stole second. Ichiro Suzuki doubled in a run in the sixth and Curtis Granderson -- who entered the game at 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts after a 43-homer regular season -- homered in the seventh to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
But the Orioles, as Girardi said, never went away, and Sabathia had to pitch out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth after Baltimore had scored to move within 3-1.
Sabathia shut out the Orioles for seven innings, giving up one hit and one walk and pitching to one batter more than the minimum, thanks to a double play. He allowed an RBI single by Lew Ford in the eighth but struck out Nate McLouth and got J.J. Hardy on a grounder to short to leave the bases loaded.
He needed only 10 pitches in a perfect ninth, getting Adam Jones on a fly to left, striking out Chris Davis on a high fastball and retiring Matt Wieters on a comebacker to end it.
"His quality of pitches tonight were just incredible, from the first inning all the way through,'' Russell Martin said. "Even in that tough eighth inning. Stuff was awesome, command was great. I would say it was his best start of the whole season. He had everything working.''