If it hasn’t hit you yet, let this serve as a reminder that 2019 was the final season of CC Sabathia’s brilliant career. To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in for me either. Yes, even after we did a whole week in tribute to him. For one final time, let’s reflect on Sabathia’s last hurrah.
A continued renaissance leads to milestones
Considering how things ended for Sabathia this season, it’s not as easy to remember how good he was to the year. It was a continuation of his success since he reinvented himself in 2016. From that year through 2018, Sabathia had thrown 481 1/3 innings and recorded a 3.76 ERA (115 ERA+). Soft contact was the name of the game, and to start this year, the big lefty kept that going.
In his first seven starts this year, Sabathia had a 2.97 ERA in 36 1/3 frames. It seemed like the same old CC from recent years — plenty of weak contact, and even with a high home run total, he limited the damage. And during that run, Sabathia achieved a pretty big milestone. On April 30th in Arizona, he achieved a milestone that only 17 other hurlers have reached:
Strikeouts are so commonplace in today’s game that this didn’t get an incredible amount of fanfare. Don’t get me wrong, it got a lot of attention, but the mark doesn’t have the cache of 3,000 hits. And yet, 32 players have amassed that many, far more than pitchers with 3,000 punchouts.
There was one other milestone for CC to reach this year: 250 wins. He became the 48th pitcher with that many wins when he beat the Rays at home on June 19nd.
What’s also notable about that outing: it was the start of another run of strong pitching for the then 38 year-old. In this game and his next three starts, Sabathia threw at least six innings and didn’t allow more than three runs. All that was good for a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings.
This four start stretch was a nice bounce back for Sabathia, as he finished May on the injured list and got roughed up in his first three performances in June. Entering his 250th win game against the Rays, Sabathia’s ERA was up to 4.42. But over the next four starts, he brought the mark down to 4.06 as of July 16th. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last we’d see of Sabathia at or near his best. Oh, and it was also the last time we’d see things heat up between Sabathia and the Rays.
The beginning of the end
Even when Sabathia was pitching well in April and late-June into early-July, there were some red flags. Hitters were striking the ball a little harder against him than usual and hitting quite a few homers.
Unfortunately, and more importantly than some underlying statistics, Sabathia’s body finally started to break down for good. He went to the injured list for knee inflammation three separate times in the summer. As we know, Sabathia’s dealt with this for a while. This time, it was practically intolerable for him as the season continued.
Sabathia made just seven more starts from July 22nd through the end of the season, and they weren’t pretty. In 24 1/3 innings, he allowed 23 runs and nine homers. Surely, his knee woes had a lot do with those numbers.
It was tough to see Sabathia crater in such dramatic fashion. Everyone knew about the lingering knee issues. Sabathia’s ability to manage it and succeed even with pain may have been taken for granted. Ultimately, father time always wins.
The bittersweet end
In preparation for the postseason, there was some uncertainty about Sabathia’s role. Given his performance in the rotation to close the season, he surely wouldn’t make any postseason starts. Instead, the Yankees decided to see if a bullpen role could be in the cards. So, for the first time in his lengthy 19-year career, he made one relief appearance just before the season’s end.
Sabathia threw an easy 1-2-3 frame against Tampa Bay. He threw just 13 pitches to Travis D’Arnaud (K), Ji-Man Choi (6-3), and Matt Duffy (K).
Then came the playoffs. Sabathia wasn’t on the roster for the ALDS because the Twins weren’t a great matchup for him. However, he was active for the ALCS against the Astros.
CC got the job done in Game 2. In the bottom of the tenth, he entered as a lefty specialist to retire Michael Brantley, who grounded out. That was it, as Aaron Boone called to the bullpen thereafter. Sabathia and Boone had a little chuckle on the mound after such an easy night’s work. But sadly, that was the last laugh.
In Game 4, Sabathia pitched the final game of his incredible career.
As big of a downer as the moment was, Sabathia reflected on it with some pride: “This is the best way it could end for me, I threw until I couldn’t anymore.”
Retirement, of course. Now, that doesn’t mean he won’t be around the team anymore. He’s obviously close with many, if not all, of his teammates. That’s pretty clear from R2C2. Further, Sabathia wants to remain a part of the organization. A gig as a special assistant certainly is in the cards.
Five years from now, the Sabathia will be on the Hall of Fame ballot. He belongs in Cooperstown, everyone. Perhaps we’ll talk about number retirement, too. And even further down the line, Sabathia assuredly will be a staple at Old Timers’ Day.