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Spin Forward: Brewers need CC's best

Spin Forward: Brewers need CC's best

PHILADELPHIA -- For the Brewers, it again has come down to this equation: CC Sabathia must pitch another big game for them on Thursday night in Game 2 of their National League Division Series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park or his club will be facing quick playoff elimination.

The Phillies jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series on Wednesday behind their ace, left-hander Cole Hamels, who throttled the Brewers on two hits -- both singles -- through eight innings in a 3-1 Game 1 win.

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Now, Sabathia is heading to the mound on three days' rest for the fourth straight start. If he doesn't have it, the Brewers could find themselves returning to Milwaukee on Saturday for their first home playoff game in 26 years, trialing 2-0 in the series. And that's not a place they want to be.

"Obviously we're down one game right now, with the best pitcher in baseball pitching [Thursday], so obviously we feel good about ourselves," Brewers manager Dale Sveum said. "But obviously we've got to swing the bats better and score more than one run."

Since Sabathia joined the team after the July 7 trade with Cleveland, he's 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts. None of those starts was bigger than the one he made at Miller Park on Sunday against the Cubs, coming off a disheartening Saturday loss that left the Brewers tied with the Mets in the NL Wild Card race. Sabathia pitched a four-hitter and didn't allow an earned run.

Sveum had so much confidence in him that he let Sabathia hit for himself in the eighth inning. That decision proved to be prescient when Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer, breaking a 1-1 tie, to give the pitcher the runs he needed for the 3-1 victory. When the Mets lost to the Marlins at Shea Stadium, the Wild Card belonged to Milwaukee.

This same confidence in Sabathia is at evidence in the clubhouse now as the Brewers prepare for what seems like their umpteenth biggest game of the season during the past 12 days.

"We've got C.C. going [Thursday]," Brewers shortstop Hardy said. "He gives us a really good shot."

"We have big confidence in him, considering what he's done for us," added Craig Counsell, a veteran backup infielder for the team. "He's delivered since he's been here. But he can't do it alone. I think it's important that we help him [Thursday]. A couple of times he's done it by himself, almost, but we have to give him some help."

The run of four starts on three days' rest began on Sept. 20 at Cincinnati with the Brewers mired in a miserable streak of eight defeats in nine games. He didn't win that day, leaving with two outs in the sixth inning. But the spacing set him up to work twice more during the season's final week, including that fateful final game.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but Sabathia pitched one-run, four-hit ball over seven innings in a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 14 and the Brewers again began winning, going on a roll of six victories in their last seven games to make the playoffs.

And if Sabathia needs to keep pitching on short rest, well, so be it.

"I definitely feel like it's something I can keep doing," Sabathia said. "My arm feels fine. My body feels fine. I've been feeling fresh. I don't think there's any reason why I couldn't keep doing it."

For the Brewers, it's now a necessity. Ben Sheets is out with a torn muscle near his right elbow. That leaves Dave Bush as the probable starter on Saturday and Jeff Suppan, that postseason star with the Cardinals in 2004 and 2006, evidently set for Game 4, if there is one, on Sunday.

If the series goes the maximum five games, it'll be Sabathia back on his normal four days' rest in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

But that's getting a little far ahead of the situation. Right now it's Sabathia for the Brewers on Thursday. And if he doesn't come up big again, there may not even be a Sunday for the Brewers.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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