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Big Apple, big arms, big stakes

Battle of titans possible in Bronx

LAS VEGAS -- If you were already excited about the April 16 opening of the Yankees' new $1.6 billion ballpark in the Bronx, here's an added scenario to give you some Yankee Stadium yearning.

Imagine the Yanks' $161 million man, CC Sabathia, throwing the first pitch in the new Cathedral at 161st Street (the numbers certainly line up).

Now imagine the Indians' Cliff Lee, who followed up Sabathia's 2007 American League Cy Young Award in Cleveland with a Cy Young of his own last season, taking the ball in the bottom of the first.

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"That would just be epic," Indians reliever Jensen Lewis said. "If that truly works out, that would just be so special for all of us involved. There would be so much emotion in that game, it would almost feel surreal."

It's not an entirely implausible scenario.

Barring injury (and don't even bring up that topic to the Yankees, given their unprecedented investment in a starting pitcher) and assuming New York wants to kick off the season with Sabathia, the two left-handers could potentially start in their respective April 6 season openers. Following along, the Yankees' home opener April 16 would be mark both clubs' 10th game of the 2009 season. So if Sabathia and Lee are both kept on four days' rest at the outset of the year -- and assuming they both start their respective season openers -- they would be in line to face off April 16.

Of course, as is the case with most things in life, there is a catch.

Hot Stove

Sabathia still has to get the starting nod in that special game, and it's unclear if the Yankees will use him as their Opening Day starter. There is also no guarantee the Indians will give Lee, who went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008, the treatment they gave Sabathia in '07 and the first half of '08 -- when they made every effort to work around off-days and always keep him on his fifth day.

"I don't know if we'll do that with Cliff," Tribe general manager Mark Shapiro said. "But they'll probably go with CC."

And, when you add it all up, that might be enough. Because wouldn't it be a treat to see Sabathia start such a high-profile game against the team that made him a first-round Draft pick in 1998, groomed him to be an ace and Cy Young winner, and then set him free on an emotional day in July, when he was dealt to the Brewers for four prospects?

Well, it would be a treat for us, as fans. It might not be a treat for the Indians' hitters.

And it would most assuredly be a bizarre sight for those in the Tribe dugout.

"It'll be good to see him, and strange to see him in another uniform," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "I think it would be just as strange, if not more so, for him looking across at us, too. But that's the nature of the beast."

Sabathia was a large asset for the Indians, going 106-71 with a 3.83 ERA in 237 starts over 7 1/2 seasons in a Tribe uniform. His win total was the second most by a left-hander in club history, his 1,265 strikeouts fifth most and, in 2007, he became the first Cleveland pitcher to win a Cy Young since Gaylord Perry in 1972.

When you factor in those numbers with what Sabathia brought to the club from a leadership standpoint, his absence will long loom large in Cleveland.

"He's a guy that can put a team on his back and really carry you through good or bad times," Lewis said. "He just really defines what it means to be an ace. He keeps winning streaks going, he stops losing streaks, he puts positive momentum back into your team. When he goes out there to throw, guys pick it up another level. They play almost above their skill set. I think the Yankees obviously have arguably the best pitcher in the game right now."

And in 126 days, the Indians may see what it's like to be on the other side. Perhaps they'll counter with Lee just to even the scales a little bit.

Anthony Castrovince 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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