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YORK -- With their backs against the wall, the Yankees will turn to No. 1 starter CC Sabathia in a do-or-die Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles on Friday.
It will be up to Sabathia to shift the momentum back in New York's favor after the club couldn't eliminate Baltimore, suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in a hard-fought 13-inning affair on Thursday night in the Bronx.
Even with such a small margin for error, the Yankees can take some solace in the fact that their big-money ace will be the one helping to decide the club's fate during this win-or-go-home postseason game and secure a spot in the AL Championship Series.
"It's time to go," Sabathia said late Thursday night. "This is a one-game playoff and this is what we play for. We're here in the Bronx, at home, and like I said, I'll be excited and ready to go."
Key stat: Hammel hasn't won since June 22, a span of seven starts
Key stat: Sabathia threw 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball with seven strikeouts in Game 1 win
At Yankee Stadium
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA
2012: 13 GS, 7-4, 2.69 ERA Career: 60 GS, 33-11, 2.99 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.94 ERA Career: 14 G, 8 GS, 1-3, 6.20 ERA
2012: 3 GS, 0-2, 6.38 ERA Career: 25 GS, 16-4, 3.12 ERA
Loves to face: Russell Martin: 1-for-9, 2 K's Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez: 8-for-22 (.364), 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1.371 OPS
Loves to face: Matt Wieters: 5-for-24 (.208), 1 HR, 8 K's Hates to face: Adam Jones: 14-for-41 (.341), 3 HR, 10 RBI, 1.059 OPS
Why he'll win: Has allowed just three runs over his last 10 2/3 innings against the Yankees
Why he'll win: Has gone at least eight innings in four consecutive starts, winning three of them
Pitcher beware: Yankees hitters are batting .305 against him with nine HRs and .877 OPS over 151 at-bats
Pitcher beware: Has a 4.56 ERA in 17 career postseason games
Bottom line: Needs to work deep -- O's relievers have thrown 11 1/3 innings over past two games
Bottom line: Yankees turn to ace in an elimination game
Friday evening's matchup will be a rematch of Game 1 with Sabathia opposing O's right-hander Jason Hammel. Sabathia got the better of Hammel in the first go-around, striking out seven and coming within one out of his first complete game in the postseason.
It was a dominating performance by Sabathia, who somewhat made up for a disappointing 2011 ALDS against the Tigers with the outing. Sabathia surrendered six runs in 8 2/3 innings against Detroit, but in a way exorcised some of those past demons by overcoming that -- and what had been a 4.81 ERA in the postseason -- en route to a strong game.
One of the main reasons for Sabathia's success against Baltimore was the increased use of his changeup. After the win, Sabathia pointed to the offspeed pitch as being a major key and he'll likely rely on it again in the decisive Game 5.
During the season, Sabathia used his changeup just 12 percent of the time, but that increased to 26 in the series opener, according to Brooks Baseball. He commanded it well by throwing it for strikes 21 out of 31 times and also generating three swings and misses.
"It's always important for me," Sabathia said of the changeup. "It's a pitch that I've developed since I've been in the big leagues, and it's become a great pitch for me. I have to be able to use it in certain counts and throughout the game. I will definitely look to use it and have to use it as a weapon."
The looming elimination game marks a fitting end to what has been a season-long battle between the Yankees and Orioles. The two clubs have faced each other a total of 22 times this year, with both sides winning 11 times. The rivalry has continued to grow and another chapter will be written under the bright spotlight of Yankee Stadium on Friday evening.
But if the Yankees are going to come out victorious, it's clear they will need more production out of their lineup. With the exception of a five-run ninth inning in Game 1, the club has scored a total of eight runs in four games. The only reason the series is still going is that Yankees starters have matched Baltimore's pitch-for-pitch by posting a 2.35 ERA.
New York manager Joe Girardi didn't rule out the possibility of making more lineup changes after dropping the slumping Alex Rodriguez down to fifth in the batting order on Thursday.
Rodriguez (2-for-16, nine strikeouts) and Curtis Granderson (1-for-16, nine strikeouts) have particularly struggled vs. the Orioles, but overall, the club is hitting just .239 while striking out 27 times in the ALDS. Hammel will be the one looking to ensure those struggles continue and ultimately result in New York's season being cut short.
"It's obviously an honor to be the one toeing the slab," said Hammel, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees on Sunday. "But it's been a team effort to get here ... We're very confident that we can go ahead and win one more.
"It is all or nothing, but there's no reason to pressure ourselves anymore. We've done this a million times this year. It seems like we've played these guys to a one run game every time out. It's really nothing new."
The old cliche in baseball is that momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. That's why the Yankees remain confident despite being unable to close out the series in Game 4.
New York originally signed Sabathia back in 2008 with this exact purpose in mind. The big pitcher has been saved for the big game and it's his overall performance that will help decide whether the Yankees continue on to the ALCS or are left wondering what could have been.
"This is what you play for," said Sabathia, whose team is 5-4 all-time in best-of-five Game 5's. "That's a good team over there we've been battling all year, so hopefully I can go out and have a good performance, and keep us in the game and give us a chance to win."