Commentary

CC needs his A-game against Orioles

Yankees ace starts Game 1 in the unfriendly confines of Camden Yards

Updated: October 7, 2012, 3:59 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- The CC in Carsten Charles Sabathia could stand for cool and collected. A lesser starter might go into a Game 1 of an ALDS, knowing the Baltimore Orioles have lit him up for 13 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings (6.38 ERA) this season, and be a little intimidated.

The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Sabathia will be on the attack Sunday. A Raider fan through and through, there will be no prevent defense from Sabathia; he will bring everything, challenging the Orioles to beat his best stuff.

"You can see when a pitcher is afraid of somebody or in certain situations they kind of tighten up, they get a little tighter," Sabathia's catcher Russell Martin said. "He is the type of guy who gets tougher in the situation."

Sabathia will either lead the Yankees to a championship or they will have another parade-less fall in Manhattan. A year ago, Sabathia struggled against the Tigers, appearing in three games and not throwing very well. Sabathia said that has left his memory bank as he takes the ball for Game 1.

Baltimore has historically been a great place for Sabathia, which makes sense considering the Orioles haven't been very good during Sabathia's career. Overall, the big lefty is 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA at Camden Yards.

Exactly a month ago Sunday, though, the Orioles had their way with Sabathia, scoring five runs off him in a 13-5 pounding of the Yankees. Yankee killers Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, who have had career success versus Sabathia, hit two of the three homers off him. That won't make Sabathia change. He will still attack.

"He's not afraid to throw strikes," Phil Hughes said. "He is not afraid to throw all his pitches. He is going to attack you the way he is going to attack you. He is not going to cater his plan toward hitter's scouting reports, even against big-time hitters."

[+] EnlargeCC Sabathia
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCC Sabathia needs his best stuff against the Orioles in Game 1.

While Reynolds is the guy that crushes the Yankees, it is Hardy (.429), Robert Andino (.348) and Adam Jones (.341) who have the best numbers and the largest sample sizes among the current Orioles.

After Sabathia struggled in Baltimore last month and in his next start against Tampa Bay, he found his velocity and ripped off three straight eight-inning starts in which he dominated with 95 mph stuff. If that Sabathia shows up, the Orioles will be facing a different guy than the softer-throwing starter -- he was in the low 90s -- from September.

"He has had good life on his fastball," Martin said. "He has had good arm speed, which means all of his other pitchers are affected by it. His change-up is more deceiving to the hitter. They have to be conscious of the velocity. His cutter/slider is better because he has more arm speed and there is better break to it. His two-seamer is good. Hopefully, we get the guy we think we are going to have [in Game 1]."

Despite his struggles, however, Sabathia still finished with 200 innings, a 15-6 record and a 3.38 ERA. And he knows all that doesn't matter right now.

Now, it is the championship season.

"This is what you play for, you know, as a kid, trying to win a championship and being able to be in the postseason with the Yankees means a lot to me," Sabathia said.

He delivered a title in 2009 and now he will try to do it again, starting Sunday in a place that has been very unkind to him this year.

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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