ANAHEIM -- Now, the Yankees are leading their best-of-seven American League Championship Series by only a 2-1 margin. And now, Joe Girardi's preference to start CC Sabathia on short rest may be his most critical decision of the postseason.
If Sabathia pitches like himself, he can give the Yankees a commanding 3-1 lead in the series and all but wrap up a World Series berth. If Sabathia falters on reduced rest, he may allow the Angels to draw even and make this a brand-new series.
"I'm comfortable," Girardi said after his team's 5-4 Game 3 loss to the Angels in 11 innings on Monday. "We didn't really stretch out any of our pitchers too far today out of the bullpen, so I believe our guys will be fine tomorrow."
Girardi, who endured plenty of criticism following his bullpen management in Game 3, can only hope.
Instantly after Joe Girardi's announcement that CC Sabathia would pitch Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on short rest, the questions came flowing in.
Loves to face.: Vladimir Guerrero, 3-for-15, 3 Ks Hates to face: Torii Hunter, 20-for-68, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs
Loves to face: Derek Jeter, 4-for-36, 11 Ks Hates to face: Mark Teixeira 7-for-11, 3 RBIs
Why he'll win: He dominated the Angels in his last outing.
Why he'll win: He's had success against the Yankees throughout his career.
Pitcher beware: He allowed five runs in six innings in the ALDS.
Pitcher beware: Pitching on three days' rest is a tough task.
Bottom line: Can he toss another gem against the Angels?
Bottom line: Can he continue his prior success against the Yankees?
How would he fare? Is this a good idea? Would it be a repeat of 2008, when Sabathia started regularly on three days' rest down the stretch only to falter come October?
"I don't think it's that big of a deal going [on] three days' rest," Sabathia said. "Everybody made such a big deal of it last year. But if you're healthy enough during the year, I think anybody is able to do it."
The questions, of course, are legitimate. Though Sabathia made his final three starts of the 2008 regular season on short rest, winning two of them to help propel the Brewers into the playoffs, he faltered in his lone postseason start -- the Phillies scored five runs off him, knocking him out of a National League Division Series loss in the fourth inning.
The Yankees, though, are more interested in what Sabathia did that September. In three starts on short rest, Sabathia went 2-1 with a 0.83 ERA. And in four career regular-season starts made on three days' rest, he has posted a 3-1 record and a 1.01 ERA, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning.
"You know that going on certain rest that you're not going to have your best fastball," Sabathia said. "So you've just got to stay under control and make sure your delivery is good, and make sure you go out there and throw strikes."
Certainly, New York did not have to take this risk, knowing at the time that it was guaranteed to be leading its ALCS heading into Game 4. The Yanks could have instead pitched Chad Gaudin, their de facto No. 4 starter -- but a pitcher who started just six games for them in the regular season and none in the playoffs.
But the Yankees also knew that the benefits would last more than one game. Starting Sabathia on short rest would also allow them to use A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte on regular rest in Games 5 and 6, before bringing Sabathia back on regular rest, if necessary, for a potential Game 7 at Yankee Stadium.
Not to mention that this is something the Bombers have been anticipating for months. Unlike the 2008 Brewers, who had to exhaust Sabathia merely to reach the postseason, the Yanks had all but wrapped up a playoff berth and home-field advantage by early September. Because of that, they were able to start Sabathia on an extra day of rest in five of his final six regular-season starts.
Amassing 230 innings in the regular season, Sabathia fell short of his 2008 regular-season total by 23 innings. And so he entered the postseason fresh.
"You look at everything," Girardi said. "The thing about CC is he doesn't have the amount of innings that he had the last two years in the regular season. We slowed him down. He's been able to have extra rest, and that's why we feel good about it. We wouldn't ask him to do something that we didn't think he was capable of, or that he didn't have a chance to be successful at."
Success, of course, is something that Sabathia has embraced this postseason. Heading into October with a questionable playoff resume, Sabathia silenced his critics when he struck out eight Twins over 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Game 1 of the ALDS. Then he repeated the trick nine days later against the Angels, fanning seven and allowing one run over eight innings -- the finest postseason start of his career.
Sabathia has punched out 15 batters this postseason, walking just one and allowing two runs over 14 2/3 innings for a 1.23 ERA. He has been every bit the $161 million ace the Yankees expected when they signed him to a seven-year contract this past winter.
True, he struggled a bit against the Angels in the summer, losing twice in two starts and posting a 6.08 ERA against them. In his one regular-season start at Angel Stadium, Sabathia walked three and allowed five runs over 6 2/3 innings.
But the Yankees are more interested in recent history. And Sabathia seems as primed as ever for another strong postseason outing.
"We feel he's rested," Girardi said, "and more than capable of doing this."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.