October 18, 2019|8: 18 PM
CC Sabathia melded sadness with just perfect Thursday night.
Hiscareer ended morbidly and ideally, the gunslinger emptying his six-shooter for the last time, going out horribly and just the way you would expect.
“I think it’s just kind of fitting,”said Sabathia a day later, a sling holding his spent and crumbled left arm in place. “I threw until I couldn’t anymore.”
Sabathia has been seemingly held together by kindergarten paste the past few years, pushing on because of a sense of obligation and his joy in the competition and consequences of standing 60 feet, 6 inches from euphoria or despair. His right knee and left shoulder have been in neck-and-neck competition for which would turn to spaghetti first. The shoulder finally won that macabre race. It popped out of its socket as he retired Aledmys Diaz for the second out of the eighth inning.
In some ways what followed encapsulated not just Sabathia, but why he is among the most revered players in the game. He threw three more pitches to George Springer in so much pain that he could not even look up to see where they were going. Aaron Boone and trainer Steve Donohue went to the mound, the anguish impossible to ignore. Still, Sabathia threw a warm-up pitch, a last gasp hope he could keep pitching.
But after 3, 707 ² / ₃ innings – regular and postseason combined – there was nothing left to give.
“That’s what I signed up to do,” Sabathia said. “Pitch as long as I could and as hard as I could and take the ball every time out. Yeah, I have no regrets at all. ”
This is the code of the traditional No. 1 starter, and Sabathia would not rue all that went with combining overwhelming excellence with relentless durability. He piled 30 – plus starts, 200 – plus innings, going through lineups more than two times, more than three times. He pitched on three days’ rest with free agency looming in 2008 as a rental player who helped the Brewers get to the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century and did it again in the 2009 postseason to help the Yankees open their new stadium with their most recent title.
The Yanks asked him to be the ace. He was. And the biggest reason the Yankees haven’t won again since then is that they never found his heir. Masahiro Tanaka was the closest, but he settled into quality No. 3 starter and playoff stalwart. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes never grew into it. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda could not translate talent into persistent excellence. Sonny Gray wilted. Luis Severino was on the brink before a fractured 2019. And the Yanks always found a reason – money, prospects, luxury tax worries – to not land their Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer or Gerrit Cole or Chris Sale.
The Yankees – through general manager Brian Cashman – also asked Sabathia to unify a splintering clubhouse. He was brilliant at it. Because they only play roughly once a week, starters often have a tougher time gaining the collateral to be team leaders. But Sabathia did it effortlessly. Like any business, there are cliques in a major league clubhouse and I have never, in my three-plus decades doing this, seen a player enmesh himself in every group regardless of race, age or position. Sabathia was the human “Cheers” – everyone knew his name and stopped by his locker for laughs or counsel.
“Everyone understands how authentic it is and genuine,” Aaron Boone said of Sabathia. “He’s the best. I mean, he’s how you would draw it up from a teammate standpoint, from a competitor standpoint. ”
The leadership bonded him to teammates and the fortitude raised the admiration. Sabathia, at the end, was putting 2 ¹ / ₂ hours in just to get his body functional enough to pitch. Which is why in the clubhouse – after Sabathia left the mound to a standing ovation from not just the crowd and the Yankees, but the Astros, too – Zack Britton was all but in tears discussing a player he “idolized” for how Sabathia went about his business.
“I couldn’t imagine the pain he has endured to try to help us win a World Series,” Britton said.
Sabathia said the pain was worth it. The sport has pushed away from many of the nostalgic ideals of machismo with the logic of being honest about injury and giving in to load management. But the true ace can’t do the job without pain. It is the exchange for the high of being The Man, of embracing the competition and all that comes with it. It is why Boone could say, “In a weird way, [it was] kind of a perfect way to go out. He’s been the ultimate teammate, competitor, gamer, left everything on the field, left everything he had on the mound. ”
At a press conference before Game 5, Sabathia summed up: “I always felt like being the pitcher of the game, stopped and started on me. And I kind of felt like I was in control all the time and that was just the best part about it is 50, 000 people in The Bronx and [expletive] don’t start until I’m ready, so that was the best part. ”
With that, Sabathia concluded the press conference, the gunslinger at the end walking toward the sunset.