CC Sabathia pitching for the Yankees' future - and maybe his

NEW YORK - The moment CC Sabathia was ejected from his final regular-season start against Tampa Bay, no one, including himself, knew if that was his last pitch as a Yankee; he wasn't even on the Wild Card Game roster, and as the No. 4 starter in the postseason rotation, there was no guarantee the ALDS would go long enough to get to Sabathia.

The Yankees won that Wild Card Game, though, and one of the first three games of the ALDS, so it will indeed be Sabathia going against the Red Sox in Game 4. It'll be the 23rd time the two teams have met this season and the fourth game CC has started, but all that, and the in-depth analytics that may go with it, will go out the window the minute he throws his first pitch.

"I like to just go off of my own knowledge. I know everybody's different, but I know these guys, and I've faced them so much," Sabathia said Monday. "I don't think anything in the scouting report is going to tell me anything that I don't know about these guys. I don't really watch any video or anything. I just go off of what I know."

What CC knows is that Boston has a dangerous lineup, one that contains probably two of the three finalists for (and likely the winner of) the AL MVP Award this year.

"Top to bottom, it's a tough lineup. They've got speed, they've got power, and they take a lot of pitches," CC said. "It's a good lineup, but a bad one for me in the fact they take a lot of pitches, they're patient, and they do a good job of working the count. I just have to be aggressive in the strike zone, attack, and try to get some swings early in the count."

When he does take the mound, Sabathia will be fighting for the Yankees' future; a win ties the series at 2-2 and sends it back to Boston for a deciding Game 5, while a loss ends the Yankees' season one round earlier than last year.

Needless to say, he'll be up for the task, especially against the biggest right-handed slugger in the Sox lineup in J.D. Martinez, who is in that AL MVP conversation.

"I get excited for these games for sure, I just try to stay even keel and go out and pitch as best as I can," Sabathia said. "With J.D., I haven't faced him that much, but I'll try to just mix it around. He's obviously one of the better hitters in the league, so you can't really pitch him one way. You've got to try to go out, move the ball around the strike zone, and just kind of keep him off balance."

And, while all the knowledge goes out the window when it comes to preparation, this will be one time where Sabathia's extensive postseason experience (this will be his 24th start) comes in handy.

"I think it helps just to have an experience being out there, because I can slow the game down," he said. "It's all the same now. No game is bigger than the other. So I think it helps in that way, and I've been in those situations a lot."

For Sabathia, this game may represent a juxtaposition between his mentality, his physical ability, and the way manager Aaron Boone has shown he will deploy his power bullpen, especially on a day preceding a potential off day. If you ask CC, though, only the first part of that list matters.

"Obviously, we know how good our bullpen is and things like that, but in my mind, when I start the game, I start the game to finish the game. That's just how I am," Sabathia said. "Obviously, that don't happen a lot for me anymore, but I want to pitch as long as I can and as deep as I can into the game. My mindset hasn't changed for me at all, I just try to go out and pitch as long as I can."

Once again, tonight could be the final encore on Sabathia's decade in pinstripes, and as time goes on, Sabathia admits that he's started to think about the mortality of his career, and what it all means.

"Here lately I guess I have been, but just trying to figure out how long I want to play and all those types of things," CC said. "I haven't really given it much thought, but the last couple months I've thought about the Hall of Fame or my career and things like that, as I get to the end. So I don't really have a statement about it, I guess, but I have thought about it."

A question about that Hall of Fame mention drew a laugh from CC - "I don't have any vote. I just go out there and pitch and play, and you guys vote on it," he smiled - but regardless if tonight is the coda to Sabathia's incredible decade in pinstripes, don't expect it to be his swan song in Major League Baseball - even if the Yankees don't choose to re-sign him.

"I definitely want to play next year," he smiled, "and I'll play anywhere. I still want to pitch. I definitely can help and still get guys out. So whoever needs me, I still want to play."

And his current skipper, even if he's not for much longer, believes Sabathia can do it.

"There's no question, to me, that he can pitch for more than just next year if he wants to, as long as his knee holds up," Aaron Boone said. "As long as his knee's healthy, I think he can be a successful pitcher for actually many more years if he really wants to. I think he's still that good and capable. It just comes down to the health of the knee for me."

For now, though, the mantra is simple: as Mariano Duncan would say, 'we play today, we win today, das it.' Because if they don't, there is no tomorrow.