CC Sabathia more than ready for the biggest moment of the Yankees' season
CLEVELAND -- On October 12, 2012, CC Sabathia took the mound at Yankee Stadium in the deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series, and he proceeded to throw a complete game in the Yankees' 3-1 win over Baltimore to send them to an ALCS date with Detroit.
A lot has happened for the Yankees and CC since that day almost exactly five years ago, and that game that marked the Yankees' last postseason win prior to this year's Wild Card Game. Because of all that, Sabathia was one of the more unlikely hurlers to be on the mound for the Yankees in Wednesday night's deciding ALDS Game 5 against Cleveland -- perhaps filling that role as late as last week -- but he has proven to be just as effective as ever after a radical change in his pitching philosophy.
And it's no surprise to him at all that he's back in this spot, one the Yankees envisioned putting him in a lot when they initially signed him prior to the 2009 season.
"Yeah, (not pitching in big spots anymore) is something that I never thought about; I've just always been confident in my ability to get people out, no matter what the stuff was," Sabathia said Tuesday night. "Being able to come out and have a good season makes me confident, but I never really thought about pitching the big games or anything like that. I just felt like if I got to the spot, then I could show up."
Sabathia's last start came five days ago in a now-infamous Game 2, a 13-inning win for the Indians that put them up 2-0 and left the Yankees scrambling … or so it seemed only on the outside, because inside that clubhouse, they were confident that they'd be spending today in Cleveland.
"Just knowing these guys and the way we responded all year, this is a team that I felt like every time we had tough times or backs against the wall, I felt like we responded really well," Sabathia said. "So I didn't see why we couldn't go home and play well and end up back here."
With Edwin Encarnacion likely back after missing Games 3 and 4 with an ankle injury, the lineup Sabathia will face is likely to be the same he saw on Friday. CC pitched 5 1/3 effective innings in that game, but just as Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes Indians Game 5 starter Corey Kluber will be back on his game after a rough Game 2, Sabathia believes the Indians lineup will be, too, after limited offense in Games 3 and 4 at Yankee Stadium.
"They're a really good team, and they make you throw a lot of pitches, and they put tough at-bats on you," Sabathia said. "I want to go out again, try to be aggressive in the strike zone, try to get some swings early in the count and have some quick innings."
How Sabathia pitches will of course be somewhat influenced by what the Bombers' offense does behind him, but no matter the situation, CC admitted he will actually be less nervous than he might be if he was watching this game from the dugout.
"It's a hell of a lot more fun to be in it then to be sitting on the side," he said. "I'm just glad I get the opportunity to participate and not have to watch, because watching these games, you'll get an ulcer. Pitching in them is a lot more fun."
And no need to worry about being too amped up, because the 37-year-old has been here before.
"I think just with age, pitching for so long, I've been in pretty much any situation you can be in," he said, "so being able to go out and take the ball and just be myself, I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully that results in a good outing."
Sabathia has had many watershed moments as a Yankee -- see the 2009 postseason as a whole, or that 2012 ALDS clincher -- but it would mean something special for him to come back and have another in Cleveland, where he spent the first eight years of his Major League career.
"I've pitched here a lot, playing here parts of almost eight years, so I'm very familiar with the city and the fans," he said. "A lot of who I am as an adult man, Cleveland kind of shaped that. Three of my kids were born here, and I have a lot of history in the city, so it will be a lot of fun and mean a lot to be able to take the ball and hopefully get a win."
And if they do? It'll mean at least four more games for a team that has grown up immensely over the first 168 this season, but has clicked from day one.
"For us, I think it came together right away, that's why I think you saw us get off to a good start. It's a good clubhouse mix of veterans and young guys; sometimes that doesn't work or it takes you longer to gel, but I feel like this team meshed right off the bat, and it's been a lot of fun," Sabathia said. "We're a close-knit group and all pull for each other, and that goes a long way when you get in games like we've been in lately. Getting back here just shows you a lot about what we think about each other in the locker room, and it kind of spills over to the field."