Sabathia hitting stride in postseason

Sabathia hitting stride in postseason

NEW YORK -- It seems almost laughable now, preposterous, really, but there were once doubts that CC Sabathia could be this guy. All those innings down the stretch last season glinted like Hazmat stickers on the back of his 6-foot-7 frame, shouting out warnings to potential free-agent bidders. Sabathia was the best pitcher available -- there was no disputing that. But he came with no guarantees.

Now, 10 months later, Sabathia is slated to start Game 1 of the World Series for the Yankees at 7:57 p.m. ET Wednesday -- and that's affirmation enough as to how his first season in the Bronx has unfolded. As much as he was during his time in Cleveland and Milwaukee, Sabathia is considered an ace.

"He's been able to really make it simple," catcher Jorge Posada said. "Everybody that has come in here being a No. 1 has struggled somewhat during the year, and he hasn't. That tells you how his mindset is and how strong he is and how good he is. And he's getting better."

If Sabathia can indeed improve for Wednesday's World Series Game 1, the Phillies may have to take cover. Because up until now, Sabathia has been awfully good.

Tale of the Tape: Game 1
2009 Regular Season
Overall: 34 G, 34 GS, 14-13, 3.22 ERA, 43 BB, 181 K.
Overall: 34 G, 34 GS, 19-8, 3.37 ERA, 67 BB, 197 K.
Key stat: Opponents batted .272 overall against him this season.
Key stat: Opponents batted .223 against him at home.
Postseason
2009: 3 G, 3 GS, 2-0, 0.74 ERA. Career: 3 G, 3 GS, 2-0, 0.74.
2009: 3 G, 3 GS, 3-0, 1.19 ERA. Career: 8 G, 8 GS, 5-3, 4.72.
At YANKEE STADIUM
2009: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA. Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50.
2009: 15 GS, 7-2, 3.17 ERA. Career: 15 GS, 7-2, 3.17 ERA.
Against this opponent
2009: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.00 ERA. Career: 9 GS, 4-4, 4.04.
2009: 1 GS, 0-0, 3.36 ERA. Career: 3 GS, 1-1, 4.35.
Loves to face: Johnny Damon, 2-for-22. Hates to face: Derek Jeter, 11-for-27.
Loves to face: Jayson Werth, 0-for-6. Hates to face: Ryan Howard, 3-for-7.
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Opponents hitting .165 vs. him this postseason.
Why he'll win: Has a 0.88 WHIP in the postseason.
Pitcher beware: Yanks have hit .197 against him in his career.
Pitcher beware: Phillies have a lifetime .716 OPS against him.
Bottom line: Has to be perfect to beat CC. Could lose a tight one.
Bottom line: Has been dominant in the postseason and at Yankee Stadium. Should continue that trend.

His first outing came in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, when Sabathia silenced his old playoff demons in striking out eight over 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball. After the Yankees brushed aside the Twins in three games, Sabathia then took the ball again for Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, this time allowing one run and striking out seven over eight innings.

For an encore, Sabathia came back on three days' rest to silence the Angels again in Game 4 of the ALCS, winning his third postseason game in three tries and doing enough to ultimately earn series MVP honors. Which brings him to this: World Series Game 1 against the Phillies at Yankee Stadium, in what will amount to the biggest game of Sabathia's 29-year life.

"That's what you come here for, to pitch and play in these big games," Sabathia said. "I'll go out and try to do the same things I've been doing all year."

In a start against the Phillies in May, Sabathia took a no-decision, allowing three runs over eight innings -- the type of outing that would have earned him a standing ovation in postseason play. But his previous start against the Phillies was one he would rather forget. Facing the future champs in the National League Division Series while with the Brewers, Sabathia walked four, served up five runs and walked off the mound in the fourth.

He was tired. Sabathia was effectively inhuman down the stretch, three times starting -- and twice winning -- on short rest to push the long-shot Brewers into the playoffs. His 14-2 record over the final three and a half months of the season became the stuff of legend.

With the Yankees this season, Sabathia enjoyed the same type of run, with one key difference. Yes, he was 9-0 with a 2.04 ERA in August and September, and he did strike out 85 batters over that span while walking merely 19. But the Yankees were cruising to the playoffs at the time, allowing Sabathia to make his final four starts of the season on extra rest instead of short rest.

The result was a pitcher entering October with arguably his best stuff of the season, rather than his worst. And it has showed.

"It's really fun to watch in between starts, the way he really works," Posada said. "It's been a great joy to watch."

Most of the Yankees have displayed similar awe. The Yankees' Game 2 starter, A.J. Burnett, for example, called Sabathia's playoff run "inspiring," noting that the lefty's influence has encouraged him to work on developing his changeup this winter -- keeping up with CC, so to speak.

"I never knew he was as complete as he was," Burnett said. "He's a confident man. He knows he's giving his team a chance to win, and his team knows that on his day, they have a chance to win."

And so it is perhaps unsurprising that the Phillies, despite their recent successes against Sabathia, do not feel entirely comfortable heading into Wednesday's Game 1. Against Sabathia, that's to be expected.

"You see what you get," Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said. "He's a big guy and he throws hard from the left side. You don't see too many of those throughout the course of the year."

The Phillies will see one of them, Sabathia, as many as three times during the World Series. Their hopes of winning will depend upon beating him.

Sabathia, meanwhile, will see the Phillies as many as three times during this series, and his team is just as dependent upon him.

He's ready to oblige. He's waited his entire life for this chance.

"Right now, I'm in the midst of it, so I'm just focused on trying to win the game and help this team," Sabathia said. "But you know, it definitely means a lot. My father played a big role in my life, and he told me that all this will come true one day, and it has. It just feels good to be in this spot."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.