CC Sabathia received a contract from the New York Yankees that matched his mountainous presence on the mound for one big reason: to lead them back to a World Series title.
And, boy, has he delivered so far.
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Sabathia was picked MVP of the American League championship series on Sunday after two dominant performances in the Yankees‘ six-game victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“This is a great feeling,” Sabathia said. “This is what you come here for, to play in the postseason games and try to perform. This feels good but we have a long way to go. From Day 1 of spring training you could tell this was going to be a memorable year for us.”
The 6-foot-7, 290-pound lefty pitched eight innings of four-hit ball in cold, blustery conditions to win 4-1 in Game 1. He was equally overpowering in Game 4 in sunny Anaheim, giving up a run and five hits in eight innings – on three days’ rest.
“CC has been the guy that Yankees have paid a lot of money for and he’s shown what he is capable to do,” closer Mariano Rivera said.
The Yankees wrapped up the ALCS with a 5-2 victory in Game 6, meaning the 28-year-old Sabathia’s next start will be a tantalizing one – he’ll oppose former Cleveland teammate and AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee when New York plays Philadelphia on Wednesday night in the first World Series game at the new Yankee Stadium.
“I want to hit. I want to hit against him,” Sabathia said of matching up against Lee, but the designated hitter is used in the American League park.
Signed to a $161 million, seven-year deal as the linchpin of the Yankees‘ $423.5 million offseason push to return to the playoffs after missing out in 2008, Sabathia has brushed aside the pressure of the postseason from start No. 1.
After tying for the major league lead with 19 wins, he shut down the Minnesota Twins in the opener of the division series and is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA for the playoffs. The success with New York comes after he went 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five previous postseason starts with Cleveland and Milwaukee.
The durable ace has struck out 20 in 22 innings and opponents are hitting just .205 against him.
“CC was huge for us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Our starting pitching has been outstanding throughout.”
Usually all business on the mound in his baggy pants, Sabathia has shown emotion this October, especially in Game 1 against the Angels when he struck out pinch-hitter Mike Napoli to end the seventh inning.
Sabathia has been the No. 1 starter the Yankees had spent millions looking for since Andy Pettitte left for Houston and Roger Clemens temporarily retired after the 2003 season. Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Javier Vazquez all flopped in New York. And homegrown Chien-Ming Wang was a bust in the 2007 playoffs.
Sabathia slipped easily into the role, going 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 230 innings, his lowest total since 2006. The Yankees went 22-12 in his starts and were 8-4 when he started after a loss. He was 11-2 after the All-Star break.
“CC is a bona fide ace,” Johnny Damon said. “That’s why he’s the MVP.”
Girardi was sure to give Sabathia plenty of rest down the stretch after the Yankees built a big lead in the AL East, and it has paid off in the playoffs.
Sabathia has gone deep in all of his postseason starts and still looks fresh enough to make three possible starts in the World Series. His ability to quickly rebound helped Milwaukee reach the postseason last year and has given Girardi the luxury of going with a three-man rotation in the best-of-seven Series.
Sabathia came close to reaching the Fall Classic in 2007, when Cleveland had a two-game lead over Boston in the ALCS. The loss left a big impression on him and was one of the reasons he chose to sign with the experienced Yankees.
“This feels good,” Sabathia said. “Being up 3-1 in ’07 feeling like we had a chance to go to the World Series and having that taken away from you, it feels good now.”