MILWAUKEE – Back to CC.
"I feel fine," he said. "I feel normal."
He'll take his 35th start, his sixth in September, his fourth in less than two weeks. He'll put all these Milwaukee Brewers, this wild-card race, those 25 quiet Octobers on that expansive back, that big grin, that veering slider.
"Go out, play hard, leave it out on the field," he said, "and have no regrets."
His next pitch, a little after 1 p.m. here Sunday, will be his 313th in 13 days.
Yeah, back to CC.
"I just go out," he said, "and try to pitch my game."
Ben Sheets gave that a go Saturday. Sheets has a sore elbow, hadn't pitched in 10 days. And the Brewers should not have allowed themselves to be talked into his start against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Field, one they lost 7-3, one that tied them again with the New York Mets for the fourth seed in the NL bracket. But in late September, your heart asks you to believe the eyes of a baseball gamer, even if it means shaking the radar gun once or twice to do it.
"That was it," said Sheets, who might have thrown his last pitch here. "That was all I had."
He was asked, delicately, if he was glad he tried.
"Nope," he said. "Because it didn't work out well."
Sheets skittered from the mound after retiring seven hitters and allowing three earned runs, boos carrying him to the foul line, and it'd be a wonder if he heard them over the pounding in his elbow. Nice bunch in the stands here. Cheers nudged through as Sheets neared the dugout (granted, there were an awful lot of Cubs caps out there), and he rose his glove listlessly in thanks for those.
"He had nothing," an NL scout in the stands said. "He's pitching hurt. You could see it even when he was warming up. The curve had no snap; the fastball didn't have its usual carry. Nothing."
Presumably, none of that was apparent in his bullpen work.
"I really thought in my mind I could go out and get us through five or six quality innings," Sheets said.
And the elbow?
"Of course I was feeling something," he said.
The Brewers fell behind early, they fell behind late, and they went soft halfway through the rally that was supposed to win it for them. Eighth inning, one out, bases loaded, J.J. Hardy fielder's choice, Corey Hart fielder's choice and start looking for CC.
Around the second inning, one of the Brewers' wives boarded the ballpark elevator on the ground floor. On her way to the field level, she inquired of the elevator operator, "Mets win?"
"I think," was the reply. "They were up by two."
"Aw," the woman said on her way into a crowded concourse.
"Darn Mets. I hate them."
Her man's Brewers are 89-72, just like the Mets. Sunday, 735 miles apart, they'll play. They'll look over their shoulders. They'll win and hope that's it, or lose and hope for Monday.
For the Brewers, that means CC Sabathia, winner of 16 games, 10 for them. He will be their transient hero or a symbol of another summer lost. Going on a year ago, Sabathia pitched a game kind of like this. Given the ball and a chance to put the Cleveland Indians into the World Series, he lacked command, he was hit hard, and the Indians never got to that World Series. He rarely has pitched like that since, but he never has gone four consecutive starts on short rest before, either.
Sabathia was just OK in his first two starts on short rest and lost them both, then carved up the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last outing. He probably won't get much of a Cubs lineup Sunday, either. Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez rested Saturday, and at most they'd get an at-bat or two in the finale. Carlos Zambrano was going to start and pitch an inning or two, but by game's end Lou Piniella had rethought that, and Angel Guzman, a September call-up, will start instead.
The Cubs are thinking Game 1. The Brewers are thinking Game 162.
A tan and bouncy Sveum sat before the media late Saturday afternoon. The headband from his cap had left an indentation that still creased his forehead. The Brewers' five-game winning streak, their win-and-they're-in weekend, the Ben Sheets flyer, they were all behind him.
He was asked about one more game and giving it to CC.
"It means everything, you know, for the season," Sveum said. "You approach it like it's the seventh game of the World Series. Basically, that's what it is. You're hanging by a thread and you've got to win any way you can."
Back to CC.
"Yeah," Sveum said. "That's a good thing."