NEW YORK On the eve of an American League Division Series Game 5, CC Sabathia exuded all the confidence you could ask from an ace.
"It's go time," he said. "This is what you play for."
And largely because of Sabathia, the Yankees will play on.
More than honoring his status as staff ace, the left-hander pitched the Yankees into the A.L. Championship Series against Detroit with a dominating, complete-game effort in a 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night in front of 47,081 chilly fans at Yankee Stadium.
"CC was unbelievable tonight," said Raul Ibanez, whose single off Jason Hammel in the fifth inning broke a scoreless tie. "That performance was a tremendous warrior, a tremendous competitor. He willed that to happen. That's what it looked like."
Orioles' manager Buck Showalter compared Sabathia's performance (one run, four hits, two walks, nine strikeouts) to Justin Verlander's in leading the Detroit Tigers past the A's in Game 5 of their ALDS series Thursday night.
"All you have to do is look at Oakland last night and what happened there with Verlander," Showalter said. "There (are) really only about six or seven true No. 1 starters in baseball and (Sabathia) certainly is one of those guys that can dominate and make a difference in just a pure 'W' or 'L.' That's why guys like him are in such demand."
Afterward, Sabathia said: "It is what I am here for. I feel like I need to go out and win every time out."
He was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 17 2/3 innings in the series.
The Yankees will host the first game of the ALCS tonight. Andy Pettitte will start against the Tigers' Doug Fister.
"I haven't even thought about Detroit," Derek Jeter said of the team that beat the Yankees in five games in the ALDS last season. "I've been so consumed with what went on with Baltimore, I'll give them some thought tomorrow. We know how good they are."
In a pitching-dominated, razor-close ALDS, the Yankees hit .211 and the Orioles batted .187. Yankees starters had a 2.04 ERA; Baltimore starters posted a 2.00 ERA. Game 1 was tied at 2 entering the ninth and was followed by three one-run games and a two-run games two of which went at least 12 innings in which neither team ever scored more than three runs.
Just like the regular season, when they repeatedly were tied for first by the Orioles in the final month but never were passed, the Yankees won the ALDS by the smallest of margins. They wound up with a 12-11 edge over the Orioles in 2012.
"You think about it; we played 23 games and there were four runs that separated us," said Joe Girardi, who created plenty of pregame buzz by benching Alex Rodriguez for Game 5. "They never went away."
Ibanez, who hit the tying and winning homers in Game 3, singled home a run in the fifth after Mark Teixeira singled and stole second. Ichiro Suzuki doubled in a run in the sixth, and Curtis Granderson who entered the game at 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts after a 43-homer regular season homered in the seventh to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
But the Orioles, as Girardi said, never went away. In the eighth inning, Sabathia allowed an RBI single by Lew Ford to narrow the lead to 3-1, then loaded the bases with one out. But he struck out Nate McLouth and got J.J. Hardy on a grounder to end the rally.
In the ninth, Sabathia retired Adam Jones on a fly to left, struck out Chris Davis on a high fastball and got Matt Wieters on a comebacker.