That was the ideal scenario, but it was spoiled in the Bronx during Thursday night's AL Division Series Game 4, which the Baltimore Orioles won, 2-1, in 13 innings to set up the decisive Game 5 at Yankee Stadium on Friday at 5 p.m. ET on TBS.
So there is a pressing need for Sabathia to simply keep the Yankees' postseason run alive, which he'll try to do while taking part in a rematch of Game 1 starters with Baltimore's Jason Hammel. It can safely be said that Sabathia and Hammel successfully set a pro-pitching tone for this series.
Hammel was not involved in the Game 1 decision but pitched very well. Sabathia outlasted him, going 8 2/3 innings and picking up the victory, after the Yankees erupted for five runs in the ninth inning of a 7-2 victory. That was the first and only sizable offensive burst in this series.
Sabathia needs no introduction, but Hammel, like most members of Baltimore's rotation, is not yet a household name. But he was one of the Orioles' best starters this season, even though he battled right knee problems for much of the season and was limited to 20 starts. The right-hander was obtained in an offseason trade with Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie, a swap which, by the numbers this season, was one-sided in favor of the O's. Baltimore also picked up reliever Matt Lindstrom in the deal -- indicative of the work done by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette in reshaping his club's roster without spending untold millions in the process.
The winner of Game 5 will advance to take on the Detroit Tigers, who won the AL Central and held off the Oakland Athletics in five games in their Division Series.
If the Yankees win Game 5, they will have the home-field advantage over the Tigers, by virtue of a better regular-season record. In that case, the ALCS would open on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. But if the Orioles win Game 5, home-field advantage in the ALCS will belong to the Tigers, because they won their division and the O's are an AL Wild Card team. In that case, the ALCS will open at Detroit's Comerica Park on Saturday.
The central question in Game 5, apart from the identity of the winner of this ALDS, is whether either offense can take over a game from the opposition's pitching. The only time this has happened in this series was the ninth inning of Game 1. But since then, drought conditions have existed for both lineups.
Orioles: Hits few and far between
The O's are being kept afloat by the overall strength of their pitching. They're hitting .197 as a team and have scored nine runs in four games.
Their parade of non-production includes Adam Jones, who is hitting .105, with two singles in 19 at-bats. Mark Reynolds checks in at .188. Matt Wieters is hitting .118. J.J. Hardy is hitting .167, but he gets a pass on this one because he doubled in the winning run in Game 4. The same holds true for phenom Manny Machado, who is hitting .143. He has only two hits, but one was a home run and the other was a double in the 13th inning on Thursday night. He scored the winning run of Game 4 on Hardy's double.
"I've said all along, 'Hitting will tie this game; pitching wins,'" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "If you see how it's evolved, the teams that are playing this time of year have good pitching. It's a given. You may have some teams that hit a lot of home runs, some teams may have stolen a lot of bases, but the one common denominator for the teams that play this time of year -- they catch the baseball and they pitch. I think it's more about the pitching than it is about struggling hitters."
Yankees: Established hitters not striking fear
The Yanks, the second-highest-scoring team in the Majors during the regular season, are hitting .216 as a team and have scored 13 runs in their four ALDS games. There has already been considerable attention paid to the struggles of Alex Rodriguez, who's hitting .125 with nine strikeouts in 16 ALDS at-bats. He has twice been lifted for a pinch-hitter; Raul Ibanez had great success in Game 3, but Eric Chavez made the final out of Game 4.
But other Yankees are also scuffling at a very similar level. Curtis Granderson is hitting .063, and, like Rodriguez, has nine strikeouts in 16 at-bats. Robinson Cano is hitting .111, but he is at least making consistent contact and has struck out only once. Nick Swisher is hitting .133.
Manager Joe Girardi made one more attempt at shaking up his offense on Thursday, moving Mark Teixeira into the lineup's No. 3 spot, while dropping Rodriguez from third to fifth. The Yankees went from scoring three runs in 12 innings to scoring one run in 13.
These offensive struggles can be seen in part as epitomizing postseason baseball, although that doesn't do much to correct the anemic numbers being posted by several hitters on each side.
"Yeah, it's playoff baseball and the games are extremely tight," Girardi said. "Usually, the difference in these games is one hit. That's basically the difference. It's been very good pitching. They controlled the bats, for the most part, and it's come down to one hit."
Yankees batters were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position on Thursday night. That lack of production marked just the fourth time in 373 postseason games for the Yankees that they have been held hitless in nine or more at-bats with runners in scoring position.
The longer they play, the better off the Orioles are. With Thursday's win, the O's are 17-3 this year in extra-innings games, although this was their first such victory over the Yanks, against whom they are 1-3 this season in extra innings. And the O's are 8-0 in games of 13 or more innings in 2012.