'Straight adrenaline': CC Sabathia high-steps the Yankees to victory

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Saturday, June 30, 2018

NEW YORK -- The emotion was raw, real, palpable, tangible.

As a Yankee Stadium crowd of more than 47,000 roared its approval in seeing New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia flip underhanded a throw to first for an inning-ending out, the burly left-hander high-stepped, gave a fist pump, and with an angry look on his face, aggressively rattled off some emphatic words.

Were they words first baseman Greg Bird could repeat?

"No," Bird said, grinning.

What Sabathia said in the middle of the Yankees' 8-1 win Friday night over the rival Boston Red Sox wasn't really important. But what was important was the way his teammates were energized by his overly enthusiastic body language, and the manner in which he practically shut down one of the best offenses in baseball.

"We feed off that, just the energy that he provides," Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. "He pounds the strike zone and he just dominates. He doesn't miss a spot."

Across seven innings in a high-stakes game in one of the biggest series to this point of the season, Sabathia held the Red Sox in check. He gave up six hits and only one run in a five-strikeout outing.

Matched against a team that entered with the best record in the majors and one of the top two run-producing offenses in the league, this ended up being the latest in a sequence of strong Sabathia starts on the brightest of stages.

"That is a really good offense that he was just in complete command against," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "On a buzzy night, on a hot night, for him to be in command like he was, and for us to break through and get some runs there in the middle innings [was big].

"Really, CC set the tone by just controlling their offense for the most part."

Tone-setter, that's one way to describe Sabathia.

Another? Re-setter. Since the start of last season, Sabathia has been the antidote to counteract Yankees losses. In 18 regular-season starts covering that span, including Friday's, he is 12-0 in outings he has made immediately following a Yankees loss.

"He's been great all year," Boone said. "That might've been his best outing."

It's certainly up there. It's also up there as far as other recent starts against the Red Sox are concerned.

Since 2001, Sabathia's rookie year, he paces all pitchers in outings against Boston that are seven innings in length, with only one run or fewer allowed. Sabathia has 10 such starts. Next on the list is the late Roy Halladay with eight, and then former Yankee Andy Pettitte with seven.

This was also the third time in Sabathia's past five starts that he made it through the seventh inning.

In and of itself that might not seem like a big deal, but for a 37-year-old veteran who weighs 300 pounds and was working on a night when the first-pitch temperature was 90 degrees, it was. At one point, it was possible he wouldn't make it out of the inning.

After hitting the left-handed hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. with a pitch with two outs in the inning, there was a chance Sabathia would be taken out by Boone. A trip to the bullpen was possible with Boston's right-handed leadoff hitter, Mookie Betts, looming.

"Looking back, he could have easily taken me out there for Betts," Sabathia said. "He stuck with me and we got the out."

Indeed the Yankees did. Since Sabathia "still seemed in command" to Boone, the manager left him in the game. Boone thought it best to keep him in for another two batters at least.

Sabathia needed to face only one more.

After Betts battled him to a 3-2 count, Sabathia tossed an 80.4 mph slider that the Red Sox right fielder beat into the ground. When the ball chopped ever-so-slightly toward the second base side of the pitcher's mound, Sabathia cut short his follow through and sprang toward the ground ball. As soon as he scooped it, he kept his momentum going toward first base and flipped the ball to Bird.

"'Don't run it over,' that's what I was thinking," Bird said. "I told him, I said, 'You were going to run it over, weren't you?'"

Sabathia acknowledged feeling his emotion kicking into a heightened gear as he made the flip.

"Me high-stepping right there, you mean? I'm an old man," Sabathia said. "So that was just straight adrenaline."

Old, veteran, experienced ... however Sabathia cares to be described, it's clear his teammates are paying attention to his every example.

"Like, just watching him, not just on the mound but in the dugout, before the game, in [the clubhouse] here. He's so methodical," Bird said. "There's something to that. I always think the great players, the guys who've been around for a while are like that.

"It's his routine, whatever you want to call it, he just does the same stuff -- every start day. It's just like nothing fazes him, good or bad. I'm sure with the kids, if he didn't sleep well, he just does the same thing. And like I said, there's something refreshing to me about that. It's impressive."