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Ring on his finger, CC begins quest anew

Ring on his finger, CC begins quest anew

MINNEAPOLIS -- CC Sabathia took some measure of delight in silencing his critics last year, having grown tired of the questions about performing on the game's biggest stages. Not only has he relished those opportunities, but he was able to succeed on short rest when asked.

After getting the most out of their ace en route to a 27th World Series title, the Yankees are leaning on Sabathia's broad shoulders once again. Not only will Sabathia be on the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Twins on Wednesday night at 8:30 ET, but if a Game 4 is necessary, that assignment will also be heading his way.

"You know, it feels good to be able to take the ball," Sabathia said on Tuesday at Target Field. "In the past, I probably would have put a lot more pressure on myself than I will [Wednesday] and try to do too much. But it definitely feels good to try to get us a win in the first game. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

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Naming Sabathia to kick off the postseason was just a formality after he helped clinch the club's 15th playoff appearance in 16 years, logging his career-high 21st victory with 8 1/3 innings of one-run, three-hit ball against Toronto in his final start of the regular season. But the left-hander said the honor never gets old.

"Being in the clubhouse with all of the guys that have won so much, it gives you confidence that all you have to do is go out and do your part, and you have a good chance to win," Sabathia said. "I think in the past, I was feeling like I had to pitch a shutout or pitch a no-hitter to win the game and be the hero. But we have so many great guys out there, I can go out and just keep us in the game."

Tale of the Tape: Game 1
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 34 GS, 21-7, 3.18 ERA, 197 K, 74 BB.
Overall: 31 GS, 14-10, 3.62 ERA, 201 K, 58 BB.
Key stat: 10-5, 3.34 ERA on road.
Key stat: Allowed 9 HR in 191.2 IP.
At TARGET FIELD
2010: N/A. Career: N/A.
2010: 16 GS, 7-5, 3.11 ERA. Career: 16 GS, 7-5, 3.11 ERA.
Against this opponent
2010: N/A. Career: 28 GS, 13-8, 3.05 ERA.
2010: 2 GS, 0-1, 3.46 ERA. Career: 5 G, 0-2, 3.12 ERA.
Loves to face: Nick Punto, 6-for-36. Hates to face: Alexi Casilla, 9-for-13.
Loves to face: Alex Rodriguez, 1-for-9. Hates to face: Marcus Thames, 5-for-14, 3 HR.
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Big-time winner
Why he'll win: Electric stuff
Pitcher beware: Never pitched outdoors in MIN
Pitcher beware: Never beaten Yankees
Bottom line: Is he the ace of the AL?
Bottom line: Can he make the leap?

Handing the nod to Sabathia was the easiest decision that manager Joe Girardi will face in the playoffs.

"He's a No. 1, an ace," Girardi said. "I think it's probably the easiest way to describe him. You get wins; you get outstanding performances. He stops losing streaks. He wins games. He gives you innings and gives the bullpen a night off. He's tremendous."

Wielding a 3.18 ERA to show for his 34 regular-season starts, the 6-foot-7 Sabathia will attempt to be a postseason presence once again, after making five playoff starts for the eventual World Series champions in 2009 -- including starting the first game of all three series.

Sabathia was 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in those five efforts, limiting opponents to three runs or fewer in each outing, while making his other two starts on three days' rest and locking up honors as the Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series against the Angels.

"You can't say enough about CC," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "I'm speechless when it comes to him. Ever since the minute he put on the pinstripes, he's been everything we've expected and a lot more."

The 2009 season marked a redemption of sorts for Sabathia, who had long been regarded as a terrific regular-season pitcher but endured struggles in the '07 playoffs with the Indians and in '08 with the Brewers.

"I feel like I can handle a little more," Sabathia said. "I was young in Cleveland and would get emotional at times. I wasn't able to handle some starts. But being able to come here and deal with everything throughout the year, it definitely helps me in the playoffs."

It certainly didn't hurt during the regular season. Girardi said that if he had a vote, he'd cast his ballot for Sabathia as the AL's Cy Young Award winner.

"With what CC has done in this division, I think he's Cy Young," Girardi said. "In this division, there is no lead safe, ever. CC knows how to pitch; he knows how to win. He knows how to go deep in the games. He knows how to not throw a lot of pitches per inning, and get your guys off [the field]. He's really good at what he does."

Catcher Jorge Posada agreed: "He's our horse. He's our Cy Young. He's going to do everything possible to give us a win."

The race to the end will begin now, after the Yankees limped into the postseason with a rocky road down the stretch. But now that the ultimate goal is in sight, Sabathia said that he thought the Yankees' up-and-down campaign might actually benefit this year's playoff run.

"It hasn't been as easy as it was last year, but I think that that's going to help you," Sabathia said. "Coming down the stretch and trying to get these wins to try to repeat, with everything to fall on our lap this year, it has been a tough year. We are still here and still have a chance to win."

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

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