With their season on the line, the Yankees turned to their most trustworthy hurler and Sabathia delivered, limiting Texas to two runs over six innings in earning the victory and sending the American League Championship Series back to Arlington for a Game 6 on Friday night at 8 ET.
In doing so, Sabathia displayed what may be his greatest talent -- the ability to record the game's most significant outs. On Wednesday, Sabathia was more Jack Morris than Cliff Lee, dancing through trouble all afternoon by, in the parlance of pitching, just "making pitches."
"Our backs were up against the wall today, and I just wanted to fight -- no matter what the situation was, no matter how many runners were on base in any given inning," Sabathia said. "I was just trying to make some pitches to make sure I got some outs."
Sabathia's final line reads a bit incongruously. A pitcher should not be allowed to hold a team -- any team, let alone one as offensively talented as the Rangers -- to two runs while yielding 11 hits. In fact, Sabathia became the first pitcher in postseason history to win a game in which he allowed that many hits in six or fewer innings.
The uniqueness of the accomplishment is a testament to that of Sabathia. Perhaps the game's best pitching front-runner, he labored to maintain the early lead handed him by his offense, but he maintained it nonetheless. As Rangers manager Ron Washington put it, Sabathia spent the afternoon bending without ever breaking. He didn't pitch a single clean inning, and his six frames required 112 pitches. He stranded seven runners in all, the biggest coming in his last two innings.
In the fifth, with two on and one out, Sabathia induced a ground-ball double play off the bat of Josh Hamilton, as hot a hitter as the ALCS has ever seen. One inning later, the Rangers rapped three singles off Sabathia to load the bases with one out. The left-hander, though, was able to get a run-scoring groundout from Matt Treanor -- who touched him up for a solo homer the inning prior -- before catching Mitch Moreland looking at a 2-2 backdoor cutter.
CAN'T CASH IN
Hey, sometimes it helps to be a bit lucky.
"I just threw a cutter that I was trying to throw for a strike and ended up backing him up where he didn't swing at it," Sabathia said.
Not always pretty, but usually effective -- an apt description for the pitcher who won a career-high 21 games this season in large part due to his refusal to lose the game's most prominent battles.
"He made key pitches when he had to," said Washington. "That's why he won the games he won, and that's why he's considered one of the best pitchers in the game."
"That's the one thing that CC is very good at usually -- limiting damage," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "He was pretty sharp today."
Sabathia's precision was in contrast to his Game 1 start in Arlington, where -- pitching on eight days' rest -- he lacked command. The left-hander allowed a three-run homer to Hamilton and walked three men in the first inning of that game, and he said on Monday that he "didn't know what he was doing" or "what to correct" in that start.
Whatever adjustments Sabathia needed to make, he did in time for Wednesday. In Game 1, he reached a three-ball count on seven of the first dozen Rangers he faced. In Game 5, he went to three balls seven times in 27 hitters. Sabathia mentioned standing taller on the mound, and not losing his fastball up and away to righties.
Sabathia's resilience on the mound reflected that of the team as a whole -- one that, thanks to him, now flies southwest to Arlington for Game 6, its season still alive.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.