When the Yankees watched their season fizzle in a 3-0 home loss to the Houston Astros in the 2015 AL wild-card game, CC Sabathia was checked into Silver Hill Hospital in New Caanan, Conn., with his mind not entirely concentrated on baseball.
Amber Sabathia, CC’s high school sweetheart and wife of 14 years, told reporters that Oct. 5, 2015 — the day before New York’s do-or-die playoff game at Yankee Stadium — was her family’s first day of the rest of their lives, as CC elected to leave his teammates and coaches behind in Baltimore on the final day of the season, and publicly reveal that he was traveling north to receive detox treatment for his prolonged addiction to alcohol.
Just like that, Sabathia’s season was over. But if it wasn’t for the courage one has to muster up to seek help and support from that harmful compulsion, Sabathia’s career — and perhaps his life — would’ve seemed close to over, too.
After a month-long stay in Connecticut, Sabathia returned home. He wasn’t depressed nor disturbed. He was in fact beholden and proud of his progress, and of course, he was also eager to return to work on the field. In 2016, he did just that, ending the season with a 9-12 record and 3.91 ERA in 30 starts.
But, obstacles soon returned in 2017. Although Sabthia’s battle with alcohol was behind him, his time on the mound was on the brink of ending, as an Aug. 8 injury to his arthritic right knee was believed to be detrimental. Luckily for the 37-year-old southpaw, MRI tests revealed no further structural damage, and his earnest contemplation of retirement was placed on the back-burner.
In 27 starts this season (148.2 innings), Sabathia finished 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA — his lowest mark since 2012. He also allowed just 61 earned runs — his lowest mark with at least 25 starts in his 17-year career. When healthy, Sabathia looked like his old, dominant self, and on Wednesday night at Progressive Field — the ballpark where he made his major league debut in 2001 — he turned back the clock once again.
In 4.1 innings of work, in which he struck out nine Indians hitters and allowed five hits and two runs, Sabathia’s 2009-esque performance was enough to help the Yankees salvage the season, as their series-clinching 5-2 win over the defending AL champions advanced the franchise to its first ALCS in five years.
Sabathia retired the first nine hitters he faced, striking out six, before Indians’ shortstop Francisco Lindor led off the fourth inning with a single. He also manged to escape that inning and strike out three more hitters before things slightly began to unravel.
In the fifth, with the Yankees ahead 3-0 — in credit to two home runs from Didi Gregorius — Sabathia allowed four consecutive hits, and in the blink of an eye, Cleveland was trailing by just one, 3-2, when manager Joe Girardi lifted Sabathia from the game. His second outing of the ALDS was over after 69 pitches, but the Yankees’ bullpen and offense took care of the rest.
So, how’s that for a redemption story.
“I felt really good. Didi coming out, hitting a homer right away just gave me a lot of confidence to go out and throw strikes and just got a win from there,” Sabathia told the YES Network after the game while champagne was showered on him. “That’s a good team [in Cleveland]. I just wanted to go out, throw strikes, and everything worked out for me.”
While overcoming an 0-2 series deficit with three consecutive wins is sweet for any player, it’s unlikely that anyone felt more relieved than Girardi, who was against the ropes last weekend after a controversial managerial gaffe which arguably cost the Yankees a win in Game 2.
“Again, that’s CC,” Girardi said after the game. “That’s who he is. That’s who he’s been his whole life: The guy that you can count on. And he did it again tonight. [Cleveland] is a very good offense. Everyone wants to talk about their pitching — their offense is really really good, too. And we were able to hold them in check for the most part.’’
And so the Yankees — a rejuvenated, rousing team which was projected to win 79 games back in early April — are now four wins away from returning to the World Series. And this time around, Sabathia will be with his teammates when New York faces those Astros in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Friday night.
“This is what you play for. This is what you play for: A chance to win a championship in New York, and we’re on our way to do that,” Sabathia said. “You just want to do whatever you can to get your team to the next round and I was able to do that tonight. Just stay the course, this is a good team. We’ve got a lot of confidence, and we’ll just try to keep it rolling.”