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TIMORE -- There will be no secrets when CC Sabathia walks to the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS. Sabathia knows the Orioles' lineup inside and out, and all nine hitters should have a good idea of what to expect from the Yankees' ace.
As the two AL East rivals meet for a best-of-five showdown after slugging out a hard-fought battle for the division title, can anyone still hold an advantage? To Sabathia, the answer is no; he figures the odds should be just about even.
Key stat: 5.84 ERA in six playoff starts the past two seasons.
Key stat: Two starts since July 13 and none since Sept. 11.
At Camden Yards
2012: 3 GS, 0-2, 6.38 ERA
Career: 15 GS, 10-3, 3.38 ERA
2012: 10 GS, 4-2, 3.44 ERA
Career: 13 GS, 4-4, 4.02 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 3 GS, 0-2, 6.38 ERA
Career: 25 GS, 16-4, 3.12 ERA
2012: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.94 ERA Career: 8 GS, 1-3, 6.20 ERA
Loves to face: Matt Wieters, 5-for-24, 1 HR, 8 K Hates to face: Adam Jones, 14-for-41, 3 HR, 10 RBIs
Loves to face: Russell Martin, 1-for-9, 2 K Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez, 8-for-22, 4 HR, 9 RBIs
Why he'll win: Went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 24 IP over last three starts.
Why he'll win: Was the Orioles' best pitcher for much of the season.
Pitcher beware: Gave up at least four earned runs in all three of his starts at Baltimore; Yankees went 1-2 in those games.
Pitcher beware: Has been battling right knee problems that have kept him sidelined for most of the past three months.
Bottom line: Pitch like an ace.
Bottom line: Solid if healthy.
"These guys have seen me a lot, and I know what they're trying to do," Sabathia said. "It's just up to me to go out and execute pitches and make pitches. I've faced a lot of these guys in the lineup the past couple years a bunch. We'll see who has the advantage [on Sunday] night, but I'd say it's pretty even."
The 32-year-old workhorse struggled in three starts against the Orioles this season, losing twice and posting a 6.38 ERA. He said that the one common theme of his outings at Baltimore -- a no-decision on April 11, followed by losses on May 15 and Sept. 8 -- was a lack of fastball command.
The Orioles used to be one of the teams that Sabathia could look forward to facing, offering a good shot to fatten the lefty's win-loss record, but that is obviously no longer the case. Baltimore has made believers of the Yankees, who now recognize the Birds as a serious challenge to their goal of a 28th World Series title.
"Why are they here? I mean, it's a good team," Sabathia said. "Adam Jones has gotten a lot better, obviously; Mark Reynolds has gotten adjusted to the American League and is swinging the bat well. [Matt] Wieters has gotten better over the years, so they've just gotten a bunch of talented guys that have gotten a lot better and they've made it tough on me."
Then again, the Yankees have plenty of confidence with their ace on the mound in what could prove to be a wet Game 1, with consistent rain in the forecast. Sabathia would, of course, take the ball on Monday if Sunday's game is postponed -- which would eliminate Tuesday's travel day from the series.
"It's going to be a great performance for both teams," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We expect a lot out of CC, they expect [counterpart Jason] Hammel to be really good, so hopefully we'll get a few hits off him."
Sabathia has been one of baseball's most consistent regular-season performers, but he was sorely disappointed by his postseason showing in last year's ALDS, when he pitched to a 6.23 ERA over 8 2/3 innings against the Tigers, including a rain-shortened two-inning start in Game 1.
That, Sabathia said, is not something he'll carry with him to the mound here in Baltimore.
"It's been a whole year; I've pitched a whole season since then," Sabathia said. "I have more things to worry about than how I pitched against Detroit last year. I don't take that into [Sunday] night; I take the last three or four starts, five starts that I've had, and just try to build off that."
The Yankees had some concerns about Sabathia in his first handful of starts coming off the disabled list, as he went 0-3 over a four-start span from Aug. 29-Sept. 14, but the lefty calmed any fears by finishing the regular season with three straight dynamite starts.
Beginning with eight scoreless innings of 11-strikeout ball against the Athletics on Sept. 21, Sabathia ran off a 24-inning string that saw him permit just four runs (1.50 ERA) with four walks and 28 strikeouts.
"I just felt like my command was a lot better," Sabathia said. "I don't think I had that much change in my velocity. It was just, being able to command the ball is huge for me. During the season, it was pretty good, but I just think I've been throwing strikes and that's just been the biggest thing for me."
It's probably true that the Yankees will go as far as Sabathia can take them. In their World Series title year of 2009, the ace proved that he was the type of star who could strap a club across his broad shoulders and carry it to the next level; the last two postseasons haven't exactly progressed that way. Sabathia's aim is to get the Yankees back to that promised land, and it's a journey that begins here.
"This is what you play for," Sabathia said. "Trying to win a championship and being able to be in the postseason with the Yankees means a lot to me. This organization is unbelievable. All the World Series championships and all the guys we have in the clubhouse that have been there helps you out, takes the pressure off. You can just go out and do your part and have a good chance to win."