The Yankees were a pitch away from possibly finishing off Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia and taking the energy out of a fired-up Jacobs Field. As they found out earlier in Game 1, having Sabathia on the ropes does not mean a knockout punch is on its way.

The Yankees were a pitch away from possibly finishing off Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia and taking the energy out of a fired-up Jacobs Field.


As they found out earlier in Game 1, having Sabathia on the ropes does not mean a knockout punch is on its way.


The big left-hander was far from his best, but he still picked up the win as the Indians beat the Yankees, 12-3, in Thursday’s American League Division Series opener. Sabathia left the game after gutting out a tense fifth inning that saw New York threaten to take command.


Sabathia threw 114 pitches in five innings, a scenario the Yankees gladly would have taken at the start of the night. He walked six, a staggering total for him.


Yet Sabathia -- 2-7 lifetime against New York -- never let the Yankees get to him on a night when Game 1 was there for the taking.


“When things are getting a little crazy, that’s when you need to be the coolest cat in the house,” Indians Manager Eric Wedge said. “When you have that type of ability and the year and career he’s had, there’s every reason in the world for him to be that confident and show that poise out there.”


Back-to-back walks to Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez with a run in and just one out in the first was the first sign of trouble. But Sabathia struck out Jorge Posada and induced an inning-ending grounder from Hideki Matsui.


The fifth inning changed the game entirely. New York cut the Indians’ lead to 4-3 and had the bases loaded with only one out. Sabathia faced more danger when he fell behind in the count, 3-0, to Posada.


Posada had the green light on 3-0 and fouled off a pitch that was up in the strike zone. Sabathia came back to strike out the Yankee catcher and get Matsui to pop out, ending the threat.


“That was a big spot,” Sabathia said. “I was thinking to myself to make sure we ended the inning with the lead. Posada helped me out a little by swinging at a 3-0 pitch, and I was able to get out of it.”


Sabathia escaping the fifth with just one run scored was the turning point, Indians first baseman Ryan Garko felt.


“That was the game right there,” Garko said. “He was 3-0 on Posada. He walks him or (Posada) gets a hit, we have to go to the bullpen early, and things become a mess from there with the bases loaded and a guy coming out of the bullpen.”


The Indians rode the wave of momentum from Sabathia’s escape in their half of the fifth. They broke open the game by scoring five times. The chances the Yankees had to get to Sabathia were wasted by then.


“We made them work,” Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. “(Sabathia) threw a lot of pitches. And ... he was better than we were. He was able to battle through it.”


Reach Repository sports writer Mike Popovich at (330) 580-8341 or e-mail mike.popovich@cantonrep.com