Readily taking the ball on three days' rest, Sabathia gave the Yankees exactly what they needed in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, hurling eight innings of five-hit ball on Tuesday to put his club on the doorstep of the World Series with a 10-1 win over the Angels.
Alex Rodriguez continued his unconscious postseason by crushing a home run for the third consecutive game, Melky Cabrera sparked the bottom of the lineup with four RBIs and Johnny Damon hit a two-run blast to give the Yankees a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven ALCS.
"I never had any doubt about me being able to perform on this stage and to pitch well late into October," Sabathia said. "But it seems like people did. I feel great. You know, hopefully, I can keep it going."
Appearing as relaxed as he had been several hours before the game, when he reclined on a golf cart outside the visitors' clubhouse and chatted idly on a cell phone, Sabathia efficiently pitched to contact and did not need to overpower the Angels.
Allowing only a solo home run to Kendry Morales, Sabathia logged his second win of the series and his third in three starts this postseason, providing exactly the type of playoff performance the Yankees had in mind when they signed him to a seven-year, $161 million contract.
"He really doesn't change," catcher Jorge Posada said. "When he's down, when he's up, he's always the same. He just goes out there and does his job, and that's all you can ask for. He really doesn't change at all."
An awed Rodriguez called him "a horse, a monster," and Yankees manager Joe Girardi was in no position to argue.
"He was spectacular again," Girardi said. "To be able to shut this club down like he did, again, is no easy feat. This is a very dangerous lineup. We had some chances early, and CC kept getting outs for us. We finally broke through and got a couple of runs, and we kept tacking on."
With Sabathia cruising in a two-walk, five-strikeout performance, Rodriguez made his presence felt time and time again on the offensive side. He is 6-for-16 with three homers and five RBIs in the ALCS, as all references to his postseason struggles continue to fade into the lexicon of days gone by.
"I will say that in other postseasons I failed, and sometimes failed miserably," Rodriguez said. "It certainly feels good to come through for my team and help the team win."
Rodriguez scored New York's first run off starter Scott Kazmir, breaking for home on a Robinson Cano grounder and sliding home safely while crashing into catcher Mike Napoli, who put the tag on A-Rod a split-second late.
3-1 ALCS ADVANTAGE HUGE
|Year||Team up 3-1||Opponent||Final|
"The game slows down for you, no doubt about it," Rodriguez said. "You feel like you want to see the ball and hit it hard and not try to do too much. But the best way I can describe it is you feel like the game is slowing down for you a little bit."
A batter later, Cabrera snapped team hitless skid spanning 26 at-bats with runners in scoring position by shooting a two-run single through the left side of the infield, chasing home Posada and Cano in a three-run fourth inning.
"We've had some frustration with runners in scoring position so far in this series," Girardi said. "But tonight, we were excellent in those situations from the fourth inning on."
Rodriguez gave the Yankees more room to breathe in the fifth inning, greeting reliever Jason Bulger by driving a low-and-in offering between the left-field grandstand and the bullpens for a two-run blast.
"When I grow up, I want to be like Alex Rodriguez," Nick Swisher said. "I'll tell you what, man. I don't know how it feels, but it's got to feel like it's a beach ball coming in."
Later racing around to score the eighth run on a Bobby Abreu throwing error, A-Rod tied Reggie Jackson's iconic 1977 campaign for the second-most postseason taters in Yankees history with his fifth of the 2009 playoffs. He trails only Bernie Williams' six-homer showing of 1996 for the club record.
"He's been as clutch as anybody could have hoped for on their side," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's a heck of a player. He's playing his game right now. We're obviously going to have to do a little better job of making some pitches on him."
BETTER IN THE BRONX
|CC Sabathia entered 2009 with a history of postseason duds, but he has hit his stride with the Yankees.|
Damon all but put the game away in the top of the eighth, slugging a two-run homer over the high scoreboard wall in right field. New York blew the game open in the ninth inning as Cabrera connected for a two-run double off Matt Palmer.
"I feel really good, because it was bases loaded and I got a big hit for the team," Cabrera said.
The victory places the Yankees one win from their first World Series appearance since the 2003 Fall Classic, which they lost to the Florida Marlins in six games. The first pitch of Game 5 is scheduled to be thrown on Thursday at 7:57 p.m. ET at Angel Stadium, with A.J. Burnett facing John Lackey. Since the ALCS became a best-of-seven series in 1985, 12 of the 16 teams to take a 3-1 series lead have reached the Fall Classic.
"You just want to keep going and keep playing well," Sabathia said. "We've been playing good all playoffs. We've been having good pitching, playing good defense. You know, we just need to close it out. It's that time."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.