ARLINGTON -- The opening of the new, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium is a baseball delicacy, in and of itself. But the April 16 opener looks like it will have an irresistible, Cy Young side dish. What was first speculated the day CC Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161-million contract with the Yankees in December is now looking like a reality. Barring a change in the probables, Sabathia will square off against former teammate and fellow Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee when the Yanks and Indians open the ballpark in the Bronx.
The Indians have decided to keep Lee on four days' rest at the outset of this '09 season, and that puts him in line to make his third start on the 16th. His second start is scheduled to come Saturday against the Blue Jays, as the Indians, who were idle Tuesday, pushed fifth starter Anthony Reyes to Sunday to make room for Lee on regular rest. Injury or rain could ruin this scenario, but, for now, it appears to be a go. And that excites Lee, who threw a bullpen session Wednesday and felt no ill-effects from the Hank Blalock one-hopper that struck him in the left forearm Monday. Well, to a certain extent. "It's going to be a historic game," he said. "But I'm more worried about preparing and getting ready for those hitters. They've got a good lineup, and I've got to give my team a chance to win." Neither Lee nor Sabathia gave his team much of a chance on Opening Day. Lee coughed up seven runs in five innings in a 9-1 loss to the Rangers, while Sabathia gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings in a 10-5 loss to the Orioles. Those weren't the type of performances expected of the guys who are in possession of the last two American League Cy Young Award trophies. But as Sabathia proved last year, when he went 1-4 in March/April but ended up with a combined 17-10 record and 2.70 ERA for the Indians and Brewers, it's a long, long season. So, yes, it's unreasonable to put too much emphasis on a single start. But even Lee, whose ability to treat every outing exactly the same throughout his 22-win '08 was a strong suit, had to admit the Hollywood-ready premise of April 16 is a special thing. "It's going to be a neat deal," he said. "It's a good one for fans to embrace, and hopefully it turns out to be a good game. It's definitely going to be a historic game, one way or another. So to be a part of that is going to be neat." As for tweaking the rotation after an off-day to ensure Lee pitches on four days' rest, that's a procedure the Indians used with Sabathia with great success in '07, when CC went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA and won the Cy Young. But pitching coach Carl Willis said he's not certain that the Indians will stick with this plan for Lee beyond that Yankee Stadium start. "After New York, we have a day off [on April 20]," Willis said. "We'll look and see where everybody is at that point." Lee said pitching every fifth day, regardless of how the off-days align, is not a big deal to him. "It's important for me to be ready whenever they tell me to pitch," he said. "That's not my call. My job is to take the ball whenever they tell me to take it. I don't put too much thought into that when it's not my decision."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.