CC Sabathia gave it his all.
The Yankees’ heart and soul, the man who has thrown more than 2,000 innings for the team in the last 11 years, came back for a ring. Sabathia knew the end was nigh. His knee has been barking about a replacement and wouldn’t shut up. There were no more revivals after 2019.
And that appeared to reach an inglorious end in Game 4. In the most heartbreaking injury of a season filled with them, Sabathia threw a 1-1 pitch to Aledmys Diaz in the eighth inning Thursday night and was removed from the game following a warmup pitch. As Aaron Boone said after the game, it was his shoulder that forced his exit, not the ailing knee in a cruel twist of irony.
Rare is the player who gets to go out on his own terms, yet Sabathia is about as close as they come. He got to pitch a final season in New York, play in the cap he’ll likely don in the Hall of Fame and pursue a second World Series title on a team with realistic hopes.
This season, however, hardly went to script. The veteran lefty started the year on the injured list thanks to regular knee maintenance and the knee roared back to give Sabathia 10-out-of-10 pain on too many occasions. When he was able to pitch, somehow grinding his way through 107 1/3 regular season innings.
Even with the joy of baseball, not to mention the monetary compensenation that comes with it, Sabathia had to have been tested thoughout this season. In 2015, he discovered a knee brace that made him able to pitch with his degenerative knee condition, but there was still that condition, a constant presence in his life for too long. His ability to persevere while remaining an undeniable positive in the clubhouse displays why he’s worthy of admiration.
It’s also what makes Thursday night’s exit so difficult. Sabathia coming off distraught after a ball in a loss. His shoulder issues cropped up earlier in the season and nearly derailed his postseason, but if he were to exit with injury in his final appearance, one would have assumed it’d be the knee giving out once more.
CC’s pain walking off the mound was also the fan’s and his teammates’ pain. The crowd gave him an ovation through the tears, but the rest of the game was a slog with errors and uncharacteristic play, with a team devastated by the exit of its leader. It’s not an excuse, but it’s hard to imagine trying to play a high-stakes game from a significant deficit while shoving thoughts of Sabathia’s emotional exit from their mind.
When you really think about it, when you look beyond what appears to be his final pitches, you can see that Sabathia did get to exit on his terms. He got to pitch in the postseason one last time. Not in the World Series, but pitching against the Astros in the ALCS is as close as you get.
When I think of CC’s end on the field, I’ll think of him coming in as a LOOGY against Michael Brantley in the 10th inning of Game 2, getting the only man he faced and walking off to smiles and laughter across the infield. That was his opportunity to contribute in a high leverage spot, and he did.
When I think of CC’s end on the field, I’ll remember him shutting down the Rays in June, think of him cursing up a storm on R2C2, of him shutting out the White Sox in his season debut.
I’ll think of Sabathia’s countless postseason moments. His World Series title, his first start at the Stadium, his 2012 and 2017 ALDS performances. There’s so much more to Sabathia than his final game.
It’s worth going back to his initial press conference in New York after signing for seven years in the Bronx. That first contract came with an opt out after Year 3 in case he and his wife didn’t take to New York. But Sabathia also related a story of his first experiences after signing.
“Me and my wife were out house hunting yesterday and we were looking for a place and we were walking through a house and the guy says, ‘What team do you play for?'” Sabathia said. “I said the Yankees and it kind of gave me a chill. It gives me a chill right now just saying that, putting on this hat and being here.”
Those same chills he experienced are the same as the ones everyone got watching him do his thing. Watching him shut down the Red Sox or Orioles. Watching him tell the Rays what’s up (in so many words).
Later in that same introductory press conference, Sabathia was asked questions about why New York and whether he could handle the scrutiny there rather than go out west, where he grew up and where the media wouldn’t be nearly as tough.
His answer says it all.
“Coming here and being in the city and seeing the way people receive me, I definitely think I made the right choice.”
You did, CC. Thanks for everything.