NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia has never had a tremendous pickoff move, which is why he listened closely when former Indians teammate Terry Mulholland took him aside years ago and began explaining the virtues of the slide step.
"He just talked to me about the importance of shutting down the running game," Sabathia said. "He kind of taught me the slide step. It's been great for me in my career."
And it may be crucial come Friday. Since the Yankees realized that they were destined for a date with the Angels in the American League Championship Series, they have been peppered with questions regarding the Halos' running game. To summarize briefly, Mike Scioscia's club proved lethal on the basepaths this season, ranking third in the Majors with 148 stolen bases. But it was a double-edged sword: the Angels were also caught stealing a league-high 63 times.
That aggressiveness and vulnerability could play a major role in Friday's Game 1 of the ALCS, which Sabathia is scheduled to start at 7:57 p.m. ET. Every split second counts. And so that slide step, a maneuver in which Sabathia ditches his high leg kick for a less exaggerated version, could mean the difference between winning and losing.
"The slide step is something that's helped me out a lot lately in my career," Sabathia said. "But it's tough when you have [Chone] Figgins over there and he's jumping around, and [Erick] Aybar and those guys -- it's tough. It's easy to make a bad pitch or hang a pitch to one of the guys in the middle of the lineup."
Sticking to the status quo, though, Sabathia said his most important weapon -- more than the slide step, more than the pickoff move, more than his rhythm -- will be his ability to keep the Angels off base in the first place.
"They can't steal first," as Mark Teixeira said earlier this week, and Sabathia knows it.
He also knows that he, more than just about anyone in the league, has a fine chance to limit whatever damage the Angels have in mind. Though Sabathia has struggled against Los Angeles, losing both of his starts against the Angels this season and producing a 6.08 ERA, he has been spectacularly successful against everyone else.
In August and September, Sabathia was 9-0 with a 2.04 ERA, before conquering some minor playoff demons with an eight-strikeout performance in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
"He's just been being himself," was how pitching coach Dave Eiland explained that tremendous run. "It's pretty simple. He's doing what he's capable of doing."
Due in large part to those numbers and to his physical strength, the Yankees are considering starting Sabathia, their clear ace, on short rest in Game 4 so that they could potentially bring him back on regular rest for a possible Game 7. But right now, Sabathia has more pressing issues.
"[The Angels] are a good lineup," he said. "They have the speed and they've got power. They've got great balance to their lineup. So the biggest thing for me is just try to keep those guys off the bases."
Certainly, the Yankees are wary of scheduling too far in advance, because they're not entirely sure when these ALCS games might be played. Heavy rains began pelting Yankee Stadium early Thursday afternoon and were expected to continue throughout the first half of the weekend, potentially spoiling Game 1 and Saturday's Game 2. The Yankees' nightmare would be to watch Sabathia start Friday and then endure a rain delay long enough to knock him out of the game.
The uncertainty, however, works both ways. Just as Sabathia can't be sure that he will pitch, he also can't be sure that he'll be idle. And so Sabathia continued to prepare as usual Thursday, knowing only that the rain might force him to spend more time playing video games prior to Game 1.
"CC is one of those guys that's relaxed on the day he pitches," manager Joe Girardi said. "And I admire that."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.