NEW YORK -- It may come down to something other than the starting pitchers Friday evening, someone other than CC Sabathia, the man without punctuation after his initials, and Jason Hammel who understandably prefers not be identified as Cole. He is right-handed, after all. It may come down to a misplay in left field, a funny carom off third base or -- please, no -- a bad call. Chances are, though, that it will be the effectiveness of the starting pitchers in Game 5 of this American League Division Series that will determine the Tigers' opponent in the American League Championship Series.
Even now, the Yankees are supposed win the series, even now that the Orioles have shown no signs on concession, intimidation or apprehension. And one of the primary reasons the Yankees remain the favorites -- aside from the site of the final game of the best-of-five series -- is the guy without the punctuation. CC's big time, right.
Friday night, we're likely to learn more about how big. The series has been so good, so tightly played, that what remains ought to be a Game 7. It just sounds better that way. Game 7's make or break teams; sometimes they polish a career. See Jack Morris or Johnny Podres. Sometimes they tarnish one. See Don Newcombe. Here comes CC Sabathia. Now, let's see in this Game 5.
He's a big man. He's got NBA size; think Wayne Embry or Wes Unseld. He wears shoes that Bob Lanier probably could squeeze into. And he says he wants the ball. That's what Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have said. That's what Jerry West didn't have to say. The ball just would up in his hands as the final ticks sounded. Friday night, we find out whether Carsten Charles is that kind of finisher.
Little question exists about his stature within the Yankees' world. He is the ace. And, as Joe Girardi said Wednesday night after 13 more taut innings made a Game 5 quite necessary, "If you have a deciding game, you want your ace."
Sabathia comes to the assignment with scant evidence that suggests a short fall is likely, though not all that much compelling evidence that he can do to the Orioles what Orel Hershiser did to the Mets in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in 1988, what Sandy Koufax did to the Twins in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, what Justin Verlander did to the A's while the Yankees were losing or what Whitey Ford never did in any postseason. Today's surprise is that the Chairman of the Board never started a Game 7.
CC has made seven successive postseason starts with a loss. That doesn't mean he's been lights-out. And his take on it early Friday morning was that his experience "means absolutely nothing.
"You've always got to drop the last one and look to the next one," he said. "And that's what I'm doing."
So is CC Adam Vinatieri or Scott Norwood? Is he John Starks? The Yankees will be delighted if he turns out to be CC Sabathia, No. 52, or closes the series as if he were that No. 42 guy who threw out the first ball Tuesday night. It's what the Yankees have to have from him if they actually want to face Verlander, a pitcher who has that kind of image.
Goodness knows they can't rely on their home run offense. Even Raul Ibanez didn't hit one in his one AB in Game 4. A team that leads its league in home runs hit in the regular season often finds its offense lacking in postseason.
Better pitchers, few fat pitches.
The Yankees weren't merely homerless in Game 4, they were hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. They left 10 runners on base. And it wasn't all A-Rod's fault. That's four runs in 25 innings for the Yankees in their own park. And two of the four came on mighty swings by a player who may not be in the lineup for Game 5 if Derek Jeter's foot says "DH, please." Another run came on a fly ball triple that should be a fly ball out.
Aside from the final and decisive inning of Game 1 of this series, the Yankees' bats has been quiet. The battle cry of the offense has been "Ssssshh." The batting order is supposed to provide a margin for error. That responsibility in Game 5 may be left to the starting pitcher. CC Sabathia might have to borrow phrasing from Morris or the great Bob Gibson -- "Get me a run. I'll do the rest."
The way the Yankees' offense has produced thus far, its reply might be "OK buddy, one run. But don't expect anything more."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.