First Pitch: All together now ...

Like many of you, I am irritated by the most cliché story in all of sports journalism: The old reliable "(FILL IN THE BLANK) has to STEP UP!!!"

That being said (another cliché!), CC Sabathia has to step up.

Right now. Today. Against the Minnesota Twins, of all teams. Because if the Yankees leave Minneapolis with only one win out of three games here, not only will this series have been a failure, but this entire final stretch of 10 games, which was supposed to be a cakewalk, could well turn into a catastrophe.

The good news is, if any starter on the Yankees' staff is capable of a Twinkie munch, it is CC, who has not lost to the Twins in more than five years and is unbeaten in his past 10 starts against them, both in the regular season and the postseason.

Since Aug. 3, 2007, CC is 9-0 with a 1.93 ERA against the Twins. Plus, he is coming off arguably his best outing of the year, eight innings of three-hit, no run ball against the Oakland Athletics, although he had to settle for a no-decision after Rafael Soriano blew the save on Brandon Moss' pinch-hit HR. (The Yankees wound up winning anyway on Russell Martin's home run in the 10th.)

So what better time than now for Sabathia to reinforce the belief that the CC we saw the last time out is the real thing, and that other one, the one who had lost two of his three previous starts with a 5.40 ERA, was an imposter?

Because now more than ever, with the AL East race refusing to open up -- the Yankees blew a golden opportunity to take a 2½-game lead, their biggest since Sept. 1, over the Baltimore Orioles, by managing to lose to the Twins on Tuesday night -- the Yankees need to know that they can rely on Sabathia to pitch like an ace not once out of every four or five times out, but every time out the rest of the way.

That means that today -- and I hate to say it, but I must -- it is time for CC Sabathia to STEP UP!!!

Otherwise, the Yankees may step down early this October.

Question of the day: Do you think the Yankees should carry Brett Gardner on their postseason roster, assuming they get that far, if all he can do is pinch-run and serve as a late-inning defensive replacement? And if so, who should the axe fall on to make room for him? Let us know below.

Up now: My column on how Joe Girardi's binder kept the Yankees bound to the Baltimore Orioles for at least one more night.

Coming soon: A W2W4 on today's matchup, followed by the series finale between the Yankees and Twins. Sabathia (13-6, 3.47) faces RHP Samuel Deduno (6-5, 4.54), a pitcher the Yankees have never faced and who is said to be a lot nastier than his record would indicate. Clubhouse opens at 10 a.m., lineups will follow shortly thereafter and first pitch is at 1:10 p.m. so check in often. And as always, thanks for reading.