Sabathia returns to form

Barring a relief appearance or a tiebreaker start, CC Sabathia ends the year 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Even as he endured a three-game losing streak from August into September, Yankees starter CC Sabathia never wavered in his belief he'd right himself for the stretch run. His struggles were a reason the Yankees were slipping in the standings and the lefty knew he could do better.

Over his final three starts of the year, Sabathia showed why he had so much faith in himself.

"Every time I took the mound it's a brand-new game," Sabathia said. "No game is the same. I try to go out and do better than the last time out. It feels good to be able to help the team these last three starts and hopefully I can just keep it going."

Sabathia finished the season pitching as well as he has all year as he held the Red Sox to two runs over eight innings in a 10-2 win Monday. Over his past three starts, Sabathia pitched to a 1.50 ERA, pitching at least eight innings each time and tying a career best by allowing two runs or less in each start in that span.

Sabathia is now the only pitcher to win at least 15 games in every season since 2007 and has reached 200 innings for the sixth straight season and the seventh time in his career. Barring an appearance out of the bullpen in the final two games or a one-game playoff to decide the division, Sabathia ends the year 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA.

"I always want the ball any chance I can get," Sabathia said after powering the Yankees to sole possession of first place in the AL East. "Getting the chance to get the ball today in a game that we needed felt good."

This season has been the roughest one Sabathia has endured in pinstripes considering his time spent on the disabled list and his ineffectiveness at times. Starting Aug. 29 against Toronto, the lefty went 0-3 over his next four starts, with the Yankees losing each game.

He's put those problems behind him as he's returned to form in his past three starts. After throwing eight shutout innings against Oakland and beating Minnesota last Wednesday, Sabathia was brilliant against a weak Red Sox lineup, holding them to just four hits and striking out seven. He credited a good changeup as he kept Boston from mounting any real threats.

While there were questions whether the Yankees would limit Sabathia on Monday, in case they needed him to pitch in a wild-card playoff on Friday, he wasn't restricted. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he wasn't thinking about limiting Sabathia for that purpose.

With the playoffs starting soon, Sabathia, who has pitched on short rest in the playoffs for the Yankees, welcomes any opportunity to get the ball. He's not worried about rest.

"It's time to go, and time to put up or shut up," Sabathia said. "I want the ball."