BOSTON -- Although it might be hard to recall it now, there was a time when the Yankees and their fans looked forward to having CC Sabathia on the mound.
But those days seem like a long time ago, and when Sabathia takes the hill Saturday afternoon for the latest "must-win" game -- and really, there isn't any other kind anymore -- the temptation is to watch the game from behind the fingers of both hands.
Especially when the opponent is the Boston Red Sox.
Time was, the ability to beat the Red Sox was an absolute requirement before the Yankees would sign a starting pitcher, but Sabathia has always been rather iffy against Boston. Before he became a Yankee, Sabathia was 2-4 against the Red Sox. Since joining the Yankees in 2009, he is 8-6 with a 4.91 ERA. Overall, he is the definition of mediocrity when it comes to facing Boston: 10-10 with a 4.62 ERA.
And at Fenway Park, he has been pretty much the same: 4-4 with a 5.30 ERA and 12 home runs allowed in 12 starts comprising 74 2/3 innings.
On the bright side, he did get the win the last time he pitched here -- but that was the night Ryan Dempster drilled Alex Rodriguez and all hell nearly broke loose. Sabathia allowed six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings that night but came away with the W.
He will have to do better Saturday, facing Jon Lester, who is 10-5 lifetime against the Yankees (4.11 ERA) and who, over the past four seasons, has beaten them eight times, more than any other pitcher in baseball except David Price. Lester averages nine strikeouts per nine innings against the Yankees; only Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson have struck them out at a higher rate.
The last time Lester faced the Yankees, on Sept. 8, he allowed three runs over eight innings but took a no-decision -- and the Red Sox took a loss -- when reliever Brandon Workman wild-pitched Ichiro Suzuki home for a walk-off Yankees win. There probably is some consolation to be taken from the fact that at Fenway, Lester's record against the Yankees is a surprising 2-2.
Still, he has been a better pitcher than Sabathia all season, and he has been better against the Yankees than Sabathia has been against the Red Sox for the past four years. There was a time when this kind of a pitching matchup would excite Yankees fans and leave them brimming with confidence.
Now, it might be more likely to fill them with dread, especially since Sabathia must pitch without Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, A-Rod or Mark Teixeira behind him, and with a threadbare bullpen backing him up.
This is the kind of game Yankees fans could have depended upon Sabathia to win for them at one time.
Now, they must hope he can win it for them one more time.
QUESTION: How do you think CC will fare today against the Red Sox at Fenway?
UP NOW: The great Ian O'Connor's column on Joe Girardi's struggle to hold his faltering team together. I've got the Rapid Reaction on Friday night's devastating 8-4 loss, plus a postgame blog featuring A-Rod, the newly minted Face of Baseball, who sounded more like the King of Denial in the clubhouse last night.
ON DECK: Game 2 of this three-game series, Sabathia (13-12, 4.82 ERA) versus LHP Lester (13-8, 3.86), first pitch at 1:05 p.m. ET. Clubhouse opens at 10 a.m., lineups and pregame notes shortly thereafter, so drop in after breakfast. And as always, thanks for reading.