- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- It's possible Cleveland can win the American League Championship Series and also go on to win the World Series without C.C. Sabathia pitching well. But that's more in the theoretical sense, the same way it's also possible "Frank TV" might somehow be funny. It's a much more reasonable possibility if Sabathia pitches closer to his regular-season form. And so far this month, he hasn't.
Sabathia is a leading candidate for the Cy Young (and he should win because of his significant edge over the other candidates in innings), but he has not pitched well in his two postseason starts. He walked six batters and allowed three runs in five innings in Game 1 of the division series with New York. In Friday night's ALCS opener at Fenway Park, he walked another five batters (one intentionally), hit one and gave up eight runs in 4 1/3 innings.
"I was not aggressive,'' Sabathia said after Cleveland's 10-3 loss the Red Sox. "I could sum up my whole outing tonight by saying I was not aggressive.
"I was shaking off pitches and not doing things and not being aggressive and not challenging guys and trying to be too much of a finesse pitcher. My changeup was really not that good today, and I threw it more than I should have. I should have come at guys more with my fastball.''
Maybe the critics were right after all. Maybe if Cleveland manager Eric Wedge had started Sabathia on three days' rest against the Yankees on Monday, he wouldn't have been on the mound to dig Cleveland into so deep a hole Friday.
"I really didn't give myself a chance to work up into the game,'' Sabathia said. "My changeup was bad and I was getting behind guys and I never got myself a chance to work in my fastball.''
Sabathia has walked 11 batters this October, which not only is more than he walked in any entire month in the regular season but is more than he walked in 14 starts combined from May 17 through Aug. 2. He's thrown 199 pitches this postseason and only 106 strikes, an alarming number for a pitcher who normally has outstanding control (37 walks all season).
He said that his command was fine but that he tried to nibble the edges of the plate too much. When he missed -- as he often did with his changeup -- he quickly fell behind in the count to a team that feasts on pitchers who commit such a crime.
The Red Sox hit the ball up the middle and the opposite way against Sabathia, who had no success against the middle of Boston's intimidating order, and not all that much against the rest of the lineup, either. He allowed Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell and Bobby Kielty to reach safely 12 times in 15 plate appearances against him (Ortiz and Ramirez reached base in all 10 plate appearances against Cleveland pitching).
"They had some good at-bats. They did a good job,'' Sabathia said. "But normally I go out and make teams chase pitches. I make them swing the bat, and I didn't do that tonight. The second inning [when he struck out the side], I was aggressive and threw my pitches in the zone, and the rest of the game I didn't do that.''
"He's 27, and he's been the ace of our staff for five years,'' pitching coach Carl Willis said. "Part of that was by default early when he probably wasn't ready. So he's definitely had his ups and downs, and I think this is still part of the learning process. But he's strong mentally and he can handle it as well as anybody. I fully expect to see him go out and have a great outing next time.
"I think he knows he didn't pitch his game tonight and that they didn't see the real C.C. Sabathia. If he gets another chance -- and we fully expect him to -- hopefully he'll go out and pitch more like himself.''
To give him that chance, though, Cleveland must first win at least one of the next three games (getting Ortiz and Ramirez out once or twice would help). Having watched the Red Sox devour Sabathia, Cleveland will start Fausto Carmona, who was 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA during the season and pitched an outstanding game against New York (one run in nine innings). He might be Cleveland's best pitcher right now.
"With the way he stepped up against New York and the way he's pitched all year,'' Willis said, "we have all the confidence in the world in him.''
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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