By Sweeny Murti
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CLEVELAND (WFAN) — This is what the Yankees are now up against.
To advance to the AL Championship Series the Bombers have to win three out of four against a juggernaut Indians team that has lost only four of its last 38 games. And they will have to do it by going through the best pitcher in the league twice.
That’s Corey Kluber, and the Indians did actually lose three consecutive Kluber starts in some freaky, fluky stretch in July. But the task facing the Yankees is obviously gigantic.
Kluber was 18-4 during the regular season and his 265 strikeouts were second only to the Red Sox’s Chris Sale. Kluber led the American League in ERA (2.25) and WHIP (0.869), and threw five complete games, including three shutouts.
The Yanks saw Kluber twice in August. The schedule makers must have been conspiring to keep them away from his July losing streak. On Aug. 3 in Cleveland, Kluber fired a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts in a 5-1 victory. Then on Aug. 28 in the Bronx, the impressive right-hander tossed eight innings of three-hit ball in a 6-2 victory.
Overall, the Yankees have now faced Kluber seven times. He’s 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in that span and the Bombers have scored a grand total of 13 runs (10 earned).
This isn’t a tall order. This is an extra venti grande, or whatever you’re supposed to call them. Small, medium, and large work just fine for the rest of the world, so why do we have to … never mind. Back to the point. This is going to be hard.
But this is sports, remember? Where you believe anything can happen when the bounces go the right way. And the guy on the other side can make his statement, too. That’s the ageless CC Sabathia.
Sabathia, who will be making his 20th postseason appearance, has waited a long time to get back here. He was a playoff fixture when he pitched in six straight Octobers for the Indians, Brewers, and Yankees from 2007-12. But he hasn’t pitched a playoff game since the 2012 ALCS, the series that began with Derek Jeter breaking his ankle and ended with the Yankees being swept by the Tigers.
Sabathia has waited through six trips to the disabled list, a couple of knee surgeries, and one trip to alcohol rehab to get back to this place. And it’s in the same building where he made his name, where 17-year-old Sabathia sat next to his mom and signed his first pro contract.
Two decades later, the 37-year-old southpaw is preparing to pitch what could be his last game in a Yankees uniform. He has the power to extend this season and his career if he can go toe-to-toe with Kluber on Friday afternoon.
These Yankees have clung all year to the idea that nobody thought they would get this far in 2017. So now they need to use some of that same resolve, because there aren’t many who believe they can overcome this obstacle, either.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN