CLEVELAND — With one big start, C.C. Sabathia can erase the memory of his brief but muddled postseason past.
With one big start, Cleveland’s ace can pitch the Indians into the World Series for the first time in 10 years.
With one big start, the 27-year-old left-hander can set this city on its ear.
The opportunity arrives tonight (8:21) for Sabathia, who with the Indians owning a 3-1 advantage in the American League Championship Series, will start Game 5 against fellow Cy Young candidate, Boston’s Josh Beckett.
Sabathia struggled through his first two playoff starts, losing the only game the Indians have dropped to the Red Sox in the ALCS, but none of it will matter should he offer up a performance to remember this time around.
“(Tonight) is going to be a phenomenal game,” said Cleveland starter Paul Byrd, who pitched Boston to the brink Tuesday night, with a five-inning, two-run effort good enough to earn his second win in two postseason starts. “You have two Cy Young candidates. Now Beckett has to come to our place.
“The crowd here has been amazing. I think C.C. will feed off that. I think we’ll see a brand new C.C. Sabathia.”
The Indians had better hope so.
If the one that dominated hitters and pitched late into games during the regular season arrives, there’s a strong possibility Cleveland will be making reservations for a World Series trip against the Colorado Rockies. If it’s the one that hasn’t been able to find the plate and didn’t give his team a chance to win Game 1, this series could be headed back to Boston, where strange things in favor of the Red Sox tend to occur.
The Indians are expecting the first.
“He’s very aware how he’s pitched the last couple times,” said third baseman Casey Blake. “I think he’s very eager to get out there again and show up for us.”
“I think everybody expects him to be the C.C. we all know,” said catcher Victor Martinez. “I expect a great outing from him.”
Though Sabathia has not admitted to as much, the consensus is that his postseason problem has been mental, not physical fatigue from pitching well over his career-high innings count. He’s been too pumped up, which has caused him to overthrow and miss his spots.
Getting too emotional was something Sabathia appeared to have conquered as he solidified his standing as a true No. 1 starter this season, but it appears to have resurfaced this postseason and will be tested again on an even bigger stage tonight.
“Just stay calm,” said Sabathia, when asked how he would attempt to level the adrenaline. “I’ve been doing a pretty good job of being able to keep my emotions under control, staying even keel all year.
“I’m looking forward to being my normal self (tonight).”
With the series on his shoulders and a potent Boston in front of him, that will be a formidable task.
“I know that he feels like he needs to do more, and hopefully he won’t feel like that (tonight),” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. “He doesn’t need to do more. All he needs to do is just go out there and be himself and pitch the way he’s capable of.”
If that happens, odds are good the Indians will be in position to win the game and clinch the AL title. But nothing in baseball is guaranteed, not when your hitters have to face Beckett, a proven big-game pitcher.
Cleveland will be up against Boston’s flamethrower for the second time in seven days after bowing to him in Game 1, a Red Sox win that featured Beckett outpitching Sabathia, emphatically.
The Indians will need to bring a different approach against the right-hander than they’ve employed in three meetings this year, with Beckett allowing just five runs on 11 hits, while striking out 21 batters over 21 innings.
Meanwhile, Beckett, who has been one of the majors’ best pressure pitchers since his World Series heroics for the Marlins in 2003, will be bringing the same one.
“I don’t view (postseason starts) any differently than I would my fifth start of the season,” Beckett said. “You’ve got to execute pitches. You have to execute more pitches now, because everybody is locked in this time of year.
“I’ll just go out and try to do what I’ve been doing all year.”
As they were in the ALCS opener and despite owning a two-game advantage, the Indians will most likely be the underdog to Beckett and the Red Sox tonight. But if they get a big performance from Sabathia, the dogs just might have their day.
“We may look like guys that don’t have a lot of superstars and big names, but it’s a real confident group,” Sabathia said. “I just feel like when we go out, if we play our type of baseball, we’ve got a good chance of winning.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.