First Pitch: No. 1 has to be No. 1

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
6:00
AM ET
The must-wins for CC Sabathia were supposed to start next weekend, not now. Sabathia was supposed to put this team on his back, beginning Oct. 6 or 7, when he fires his first pitch of the playoffs.

Instead, the must-wins start tonight.

It is not a must-win in the fullest sense of the term. Sabathia can stink tonight and the Yankees could lose and they would still be able to mathematically do a lot of things. If the Orioles lose down in Tampa, then the playoff-bound Yankees would be at the same spot they are right now -- tied with Baltimore in the AL East.

However, after Sabathia, the Yankees have Ivan Nova on Tuesday or, if Joe Girardi makes a change, David Phelps. So if the Yankees are going to avoid having to go to Baltimore for a tiebreak game on Thursday and being in the wild card on Friday, it really needs to start with CC tonight.

Sabathia's big contract is to win games like tonight. His last two times out, Sabathia has absolutely shown why he may be a future Hall of Famer -- the Yankees have needed him and he has been there, suddenly throwing 95 again and dominating.

In wins over the A's and Twins, Sabathia fired 16 innings and allowed just two runs. The Yankees need this type of CC; especially against Clay Buchholz, who hasn’t been great, but he has been pretty good.

UP NOW: Wallace Matthews on winning with the playoff atmosphere. Mark Teixeira should be back tonight.

ON DECK: The Red Sox are in town, trying to play spoiler in what likely will be Bobby Valentine's last three games as their manager and, quite possibly, as a major league manager. It is Yankees-Red Sox, so if Boston has any pride left it will try to spoil the Yankees' season. If the Red Sox are at all in touch with their fans, they will know that it would mean a lot to Red Sox Nation if they can ruin the Universe's chances. Misery -- especially among rivals -- loves some company.

IN THE HOLE: Your pitching matchups against the Red Sox. On Monday, Sabathia (14-6, 3.42) vs. Buccholz (11-7, 4.22). Tuesday, Ivan Nova (12-8, 5.02 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (9-14, 4.94); Wednesday, Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68).

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What’s it going to be? AL East champs? Wild card? No. 1 seed? And why?
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .288
HRM. Teixeira 20
RBIJ. Ellsbury 64
RB. Gardner 81
OPSB. Gardner .787
ERAH. Kuroda 3.88
SOM. Tanaka 135