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So here's all CC Sabathia is being asked to do in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday afternoon:
Save the New York Yankees from elimination. Give them at least one more day to defend their World Series title. Remove any need for their suddenly leaky bullpen. Forget about a Yanks offense that finally stirred a little in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but just couldn't put the Texas Rangers away. Ignore the loss of All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira to a hamstring strain, as well as the Yanks' lousy record against opposing left-handed pitchers.
In other words, no pressure, CC.
Just another game.
"I can't do anything [about what's already happened]," Sabathia said before Texas' 10-3 beatdown of the Yankees shoved New York into a 3-1 series hole. "I'll come in the clubhouse and be the same guy and be ready to pitch."
|CC Sabathia and the Yankees are staring at an imposing task: Trying to win three straight elimination games.|
Even for an ace as good as Sabathia, a 20-game winner and front-runner for the Cy Young Award, overcoming everything that's ailing the Yankees right now -- in addition to canceling out just how well and loose the Rangers are playing -- is a lot to ask.
Sabathia could go out Wednesday and throw a gem. But the problem is, other than perhaps Robinson Cano, no one else on the Yankees is playing well enough to help Sabathia turn this back into a series again. If Sabathia wins, it still may feel like just a stay of execution for the Yankees.
The Rangers are playing that well. And the truth is, even before the Yankees saw Game 4 blow up on them in the space of about 15 minutes, the Yankees have looked for most of this ALCS series like the team that stumbled and bumbled through September. They don't look like a club ready to rise up and pull off back-to-back World Series titles.
Effort isn't their problem. Results are. On the rare occasions they've had a lead, they haven't been able to hold it. When they get guys on base, they can't break open the game.
"Seems like the same story every night," Derek Jeter agreed, exhaling wearily. "So far they've been a lot better than us."
Tuesday's meltdown started for the Yankees with the sight of Teixeira falling to the ground in pain and clutching his right leg while trying to beat out a double-play throw to first base with two men on in the fifth. The Yankees had a potential rally going when it happened. But the sight of Teixeira, their No. 3 hitter and Gold Glove first baseman, being helped off the field instantly sucked the life right out of the Stadium. The place fell as quiet as a mausoleum. The Yankees looked shocked, and then distracted, the rest of their at-bat. And it only got worse a half-inning later, when manager Joe Girardi's decision to intentionally walk David Murphy to get to Bengie Molina backfired.
Molina got a grooved, first-pitch fastball from A.J. Burnett and slammed it into the left-field seats for a three-run homer that gave Texas a 5-3 lead.
Burnett -- who hadn't been bad until then -- grabbed his head as soon as he heard the crack of the bat.
Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli winced behind his mask.
Yanks third baseman Alex Rodriguez never even rose out of the defensive crouch he was in when Molina's huge cut connected with the pitch. Rodriguez just stayed jackknifed at the waist and dropped his head toward the infield dirt as if someone had just sucker punched him in the stomach. Which Molina kinda had.
Molina -- a squat catcher who's built like your average corner mailbox -- almost floated around the bases after that with an unabashed look of awe on his face, not even bothering to affect that too-cool-to-smile look that guys who are actually supposed to hit home runs put on.
(For an example of that, see Rangers MVP candidate Josh Hamilton when he hit his second homer of the game -- and fourth of this series.)
If the Yankees are honest with themselves, this was a total beatdown. Not just another loss.
So now it's up to Sabathia to make the Yankees forget all that, overcome all that, and cover up for other worries. Like? What's the likelihood that fellow starters Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes could run the table behind Sabathia even if he does win Wednesday? And when -- if ever -- will the ugly batting totals for some of the Yankees' top hitters change? Through four games, A-Rod is 2-for-15, Jorge Posada is 2-for-12, Nick Swisher is 1-for-15 and Curtis Granderson is 2-for-12.
That won't cut it against a red-hot Rangers team that has scored seven, eight and now 10 runs in the past three games, and hit four home runs on Tuesday.
But Molina's was the most important and unlikeliest blow of them all, the most devastating, and the most undeniable sign yet that the magic the Yankees had during last year's playoff run has deserted them.
"If there's a lineup in baseball comparable to ours, it's that one," Yankees designated hitter Lance Berkman said of Texas. "That's a great baseball team over there."
"We just have to forget about this one and win a game," Jeter added.
"We've got the big guy on the mound -- it starts with him," Burnett agreed.
No pressure at all, CC.
Have yourself a blast.
Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
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