This is what CC is here for

Nobody said it better than CC Sabathia, just as nobody pitched it better. The Yankees spent most of the past two months trying to shake the Orioles off their pant cuffs and finally did so Friday in advancing to the American League Championship Series, which will start immediately Saturday night at Yankee Stadium against the Tigers.

As Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said, there are just a handful of pitchers who are truly No. 1 starters and that Sabathia is one of those. Buck also mentioned Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who threw a complete-game shutout over Oakland to clinch the other AL Division Series. ALCS Game 3 could very likely be a matchup between the two of them.

Sabathia didn’t pitch a shutout, but he sure came close. The big lefthander was nothing short of brilliant in pitching a complete-game four-hitter, 3-1. All the hits were singles. He had a couple of walks and eight strikeouts in pitching to the Yankees to the next level by taking his own game to the next level. He pitched 17 2/3 of a possible 18 innings in his two starts in the series.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Sabathia said afterward. “That is what I play for.”

Perfect. That is the attitude an ace has to have. Looking back, maybe those two stints on the 15-day disabled list did wonders for Sabathia, who essentially had a month’s time off in the regular season. He certainly displayed an abundance of strength Friday against the Orioles, who ended up the regular season two games behind the Yankees and the ALDS two runs behind them. They played 23 games against each other in 2012 and were separated by four runs.

Sabathia had only one troublesome inning, the eighth, while working with a 3-0 lead. That was when the Orioles scratched out their run and threatened for more by loading the bases with one out. CC needed to bear down and did so effectively with a huge strikeout of Nate McLouth, who was a pest all series, and with major help from hobbling shortstop Derek Jeter, who charged a grounder by J.J. Hardy and threw him out at first base.

“I was trying to back off a little bit and not try to overthrow and leave the ball over the plate,” Sabathia said. “After I got a couple of runners on, that went out the window. I went back to being fired up and trying to be aggressive with fastballs. Obviously, that didn’t work; I was all over the place. That late in the game in that situation, I can go ahead and let it go and just be aggressive.”

“He was going so well that I didn’t want to pull him,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s our ace. He has been there, done that. This was vintage CC.”

A Yankees offense that sputtered much of the series came across with all the run support Sabathia would require. Who would figure a Mark Teixeira stolen base would help build a run? Ichiro Suzuki, who will play in his first ALCS since his Mariners opposed the Yankees 11 years ago, doubled home a run in the sixth.

The best sight, though, was Curtis Granderson belting a home run in the seventh, one of his two hits in the game. The Yankees need their bats to get hot. Granderson entered the game with one hit in 16 at-bats with nine strikeouts, so he was due to bust out. Now they need Robinson Cano (.091), Nick Swisher (.111) and Alex Rodriguez (.125) to follow suit.

Since the Tigers do not have a lefthander in their rotation, it remains to be seen where A-Rod, who was benched in ALDS Game 5 against a righthander, will fit in. That is one of the items on Girardi’s agenda for Saturday night when the ALCS begins. Friday was about the valuable left arm the Yankees relied on to get them into the next playoff round.

“We have so much belief in CC,” Girardi said. “You think of what he has done since he got here. It has been an unbelievable run for him.”

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