It’s hard to believe for some fans that the 2019 season will be CC Sabathia’s 11th as a Yankee and 19th in the major leagues. When the big man retires, he will be most closely associated with the Yankees.
Unfortunately for Yankees fans, that day is coming soon. Sabathia is holding a press conference today to announce that 2019 will be his last season in professional baseball. The former Yankees ace and current savvy veteran will look to end his career on top with one final playoff push.
In that respect, let’s take a look at Sabathia’s career, specifically with the Yankees, and outline his top five best moments in pinstripes.
5. The Revival
Sabathia started his career as a Yankee off on the right foot. Through his first four years, he served as the staff ace. He went 74-29 with a 3.22 ERA over that span, making three All-Star teams and earning three top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young voting.
However, from 2013-2015, CC went through a rough patch. His trademark velocity started to fall, and he just wasn’t the same dominant pitcher. It looked like Sabathia’s time as an effective major league pitcher was over.
But then, in September 2015, Sabathia bounced back. He developed a new cut fastball and effectively changed his approach from a four-seam fireballer to a crafty veteran. From that month to the present day, Sabathia has a 3.67 ERA over 510.1 innings, and a 7.7 K/9 rate that isn’t that far off from the 8.2 K/9 rate he posted from 2009-2012. Sabathia also overcame a battle with alcoholism that dogged him for much of his career.
Sabathia legitimately looked like toast for nearly three years, and it was a rough time for his biggest fans. Now though, watching the new CC frustrate Jackie Bradley Jr. with his crafty approach is almost just as fun as watching him pump heaters by David Ortiz.
4. Near No-No’s
Sabathia’s comeback has been great, but during his peak, he was one of the American League’s top five pitchers. Naturally, Sabathia had a few brushes with perfection in his prime.
First, on a 2010 nationally-televised Saturday afternoon game in Tampa Bay, Sabathia hurled 7.2 no-hit innings against the Rays. He was just four outs away from the no-no. The game featured several standout defensive plays from his teammates, and was the closest Sabathia got to a no-hitter.
The next year though, Sabathia almost did it again. Against the Mariners on a hot July night, Sabathia went 6.1 innings without allowing a hit, only to give up the first hit to future Yankee Brendan Ryan. It was Sabathia’s last legit chance to get the no-no, and while he came up a bit short, Yankees fans will remember the adrenaline rush from watching those games forever.
3. The 2017 Postseason
We already alluded to Sabathia’s comeback, but he officially cemented himself as back with his dominant 2017 postseason performance. He went 1-1 over four starts, but had a 2.37 ERA and struck out 19 batters in 19 innings. His biggest moment came in the win-or-go-home Game Five of the ALDS at Cleveland, his old stomping grounds.
Against a team that had won 100 games and just needed one home win to send the Yankees packing, Sabathia struck out nine Indians over 4.1 innings and left the game up 3-2. He even made a diving catch on an infield pop-up! Sabathia left his mark in that performance in what might be his last great postseason hurrah.
2. 2009 ALCS MVP
CC truly earned his money as a Yankee with his clutch postseason performances. Though he was the ace of a World Series winner in 2009, his best act that postseason came in the ALCS versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Angels were certified Yankees postseason slayers at that point, having eliminated the Bombers in 2002 and 2005. Sabathia helped make sure that things went differently in 2009, though. He pitched two games, including the second on just three days’ rest. He threw eight innings in each of those games, allowed just nine hits and two runs total, and struck out 12 Angels. Sabathia got the win in both games, and was named ALCS MVP for his efforts. After a few years without a true ace, the Yankees finally had one again with CC.
1. 2012 ALDS Game 5
The 2017 Game Five win over the Indians wasn’t CC’s first rodeo in do-or-die elimination games. With the Yankees struggling to put away the pesky Baltimore Orioles in the 2012 ALDS, Sabathia toed the rubber in a win-or-go-home Game Five at Yankee Stadium. To say that he was an ace that night is an understatement.
Sabathia spun a complete-game, one-run gem that sent the Yankees to the ALCS. With the bases loaded in the eighth inning and the game in the balance, Sabathia did what he does best: get out of jams. He struck out Nate McClouth and got JJ Hardy to roll over an easy groundball, leaving the bases loaded and maintaining a 3-1 Yankees lead.
On his 121st pitch of the night, Sabathia got Matt Wieters to ground out, sending the Yankees to the ALCS. It was the first postseason complete game by a Yankee since Roger Clemens in 2000, and may be the last for quite some time. I remember there being some fear associated around that game, and for Sabathia to own it like he did that night, it’s easily my personal top CC Sabathia moment.