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Under pressure, Yankees know CC can be calm, collected


If CC Sabathia has to pitch at Fenway in October, the Yankees can be assured he can handle it. (AP)  
If CC Sabathia has to pitch at Fenway in October, the Yankees can be assured he can handle it. (AP)  

BOSTON -- Eventually, the Yankees will get to games CC Sabathia absolutely must win.

Those come in October.

This was not October. This did not feel like October.

"No," Sabathia said, laughing off the question from an overanxious Boston TV type.

He understands. He gets it.

He wasn't the one pumping his fist uncontrollably.

We'll have to assume it meant a little something for CC Sabathia to finally beat the Red Sox this year, 5-2 on Tuesday night, because he wasn't going to say it. We'll have to believe it wasn't nearly as big a deal as everyone else wanted it to be, because otherwise we have to believe Sabathia is better at hiding his emotions than he is at pitching.

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He's a confident man, as someone with a Cy Young Award (2007) and a 21-win season (2010) should. He's a mature pitcher, one who has learned to control his emotions better than he did earlier in his career.

There was a time he got too pumped up for big games, and the result too often was too many walks and not as many wins.

Now he knows better.

"I wanted to make sure I was calm enough to put the ball where I wanted to," he said.

He was calm, through six stressful innings and 128 pitches, the most he has thrown in a game (regular season or postseason) since coming to the Yankees nearly three years ago. And while this might not have been Sabathia at his best, it was Sabathia doing what he does best, pushing through and putting his team in position to win.

It's why the Yankees don't need to worry about Sabathia. Never did.

But they sure do need to rely on him.

They depend on him now, and they'll depend on him even more in October. I get the argument that Justin Verlander should be the Most Valuable Player in the American League, but CC Sabathia remains the Most Important Player in October for the team that spent $200 million without building a reliable rotation behind him.

If the Yankees and Red Sox meet in October, Sabathia is more likely to be matched up with Jon Lester or Josh Beckett, rather than the rather ordinary John Lackey. But the games could well go just the way Tuesday's game went.

The stakes will be higher, and the emotions will be, too.

Not that we didn't see emotion Tuesday. The Yankees ended the game without their manager and their pitching coach, who both had been ejected. The benches emptied once, after Lackey hit Yankees backup catcher Francisco Cervelli with a pitch in the seventh inning.

As with most baseball altercations, it looked like much more than it was.

Lackey no doubt didn't appreciate the way Cervelli celebrated his fifth-inning home run, and the Red Sox no doubt wish Cervelli would tone down his fist pumps after big strikeouts. But the Red Sox know what Cervelli is, and Cervelli knows what he is, too.

"It's my game," he said. "I don't try to show anyone up. It's my energy. I don't play every day, so when I do, I just want to transfer my energy to my teammates."

Cervelli said that when he finally got to first base, he apologized to Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, saying he didn't mean to offend anyone.

Asked if he ever thought there was a chance the two teams were really going to fight, Cervelli looked shocked.

"Oh, no, no, no, no," he said. "I'm a pacific guy. I don't like to fight."

The Yankees weren't happy with Lackey, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild's ejection came when he was arguing that Lackey should have been ejected from the game.

Sabathia was also on the field yelling at Lackey, showing much more emotion than he did when he was on the mound himself. Eventually, Jorge Posada had to push Sabathia away.

"You'll have to read my lips," Sabathia said, when asked what he was yelling.

At that point, of course, Sabathia was done pitching. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he pushed him to 128 pitches because of a short bullpen, but it's hard to believe Girardi would have done so against any other opponent.

The Yankees manager plays up these meetings with the Red Sox as much as the New York tabloids do, maybe even more so. It's amusing before each of these series begins to watch Girardi say how important they are, and then to watch Red Sox manager Terry Francona say that he treats every series his team plays with importance.

Girardi was at it again Tuesday, when he explains the emotions that led to his own ninth-inning ejection.

"This is a huge game," he said. "This is a huge series."

Fortunately for him, his players were able to contain their emotions and play the game. Even better for him, his starting pitcher could contain his emotions.

He understands. He gets it.

The Yankees don't need to worry about him. They just need very much to depend on him.


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