NEW YORK -- It should be no surprise that CC Sabathia cuts the kind of imposing figure that makes it easy for teammates to follow him wherever he goes. Now he's leading the path straight to the World Series.
The Yankees left-hander was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, after allowing just two runs over 16 innings in his two starts against the Angels.
Sabathia was presented with the award after the Yankees beat the Angels, 5-2, in Game 6 to head to the World Series for the first time since 2003.
"It feels good," Sabathia said. "We came in with the goal in Spring Training of winning the championship, and we're one step closer. It's a close team, and we have a lot of fun together. It just feels good to be able to celebrate with those guys in there."
Sabathia, who was the winning pitcher in Game 1 and Game 4, allowed just nine hits over those 16 innings, with 12 strikeouts and three walks. He said that keeping Angels speedsters like Chone Figgins off base was a key.
"Those guys, they wreak havoc on the basepaths," Sabathia said. "You don't want to have to worry about them while you're facing [Vladimir Guerrero] and Torii [Hunter]. To be able to keep those guys off the basepaths made all the difference in the series."
Sabathia had a 1.13 ERA in the ALCS, and his ERA for the entire postseason is just 1.19 after allowing just one run over 6 2/3 innings in a start against the Twins in the AL Division Series.
"He's been huge," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "To shut their team down twice and really give our bullpen almost a whole day off when he pitched, he's been able to do that in almost each one of his games -- he's been incredible."
In so many ways, Sabathia has proved to be ace the Yankees were looking for when they signed the big left-hander to a seven-year, $161 million contract before the season.
CC Sabathia is the eighth Yankees player to be named Most Valuable Player of an American League Championship Series.
"CC being the MVP was really fitting, because he gave us everything that we asked for," catcher Jorge Posada said. "We needed pitching and we got him, because we needed him to step up, and he really stepped up big time in this series and in the series before."
"You can't say enough. That's what it takes to win in the postseason -- it's great pitching," Alex Rodriguez said. "No matter what you do hitting, it's really irrelevant if you don't have a horse like CC Sabathia. To me, he's very special."
Sabathia went 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA in 34 starts during the regular season, and his postseason performance so far has helped shed his label of struggling in the postseason, as he entered the year with a 7.92 ERA in five career starts in the playoffs.
"That's what your No. 1 guy does," A.J. Burnett said. "He comes in and sets the tone, and he's done that since Day 1. It's been an honor to follow him throughout the year, pitching behind him. You can't ever go wrong giving him the ball. You know what you're going to get."
The Yankees had a pretty good idea that Sabathia would step up as early as the first weeks of Spring Training, as he organized team field trips for fishing expeditions and Orlando Magic NBA games. The pitcher with the biggest pay stub on the roster didn't blink at picking up the check for dinner.
In some small way, that groundwork may have paid dividends in the ALCS.
"It's the camaraderie -- the way we get along on and off the field, everybody hanging out and doing things together," Sabathia said. "I think that's what brought us together closer, to get through these tough situations and all these close games we played in. There was never a doubt."
Sabathia will start Game 1 of the World Series against the Phillies on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
"He really is the guy we follow," Posada said. "We're going to get him in Game 1 against Philly, and he's the reason why we are here."
Sabathia is 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA in three career starts against the Phillies and allowed three runs over eight innings in his one start against Philadelphia this year.
"This is what you come here for, to try and win a championship," Sabathia said. "We're one step closer."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.