MILWAUKEE – Only the inside of CC Sabathia's glove knows what he said.
He had just struck out Brad Hawpe to escape a jam in the sixth inning of his debut with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Sabathia no longer could contain himself. Rather than scream to the sky and show up the Colorado Rockies, Sabathia lifted his bear's paw, covered his mouth and let out a blast of excitement and invective and, perhaps, warning, to the men in Cubs uniforms 100 miles south, that no matter what moves they make – the blockbuster acquisition of Rich Harden on Tuesday the latest – the Brewers aren't going anywhere.
"I was just letting out everything from the past couple of days," Sabathia said after pitching his new team to a 7-3 victory Tuesday night by surviving five walks in six innings. He allowed two runs and five hits.
"The anticipation of getting out there on the mound, and being frustrated with the five walks and not throwing the ball where I wanted to," he said. "It was a release. You'll see that from me time to time. When I get riled up, I have to let it out."
What a day it capped. The American League's three divisions can point to their across-the-board competitiveness, the National League East and West their close races, but none comes close to matching the NL Central, which this week puffed its chest with an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better mantra.
The splashes this time of year usually are near the oceans, not the Great Lakes. Yet there went the Cubs, practically emptying themselves of major-league-ready young talent to get Harden, a regular on a pair of top-five lists: best pitcher in baseball when healthy and pitcher least likely to stay healthy.
For 48 hours, the Brewers were the scariest team in the NL, Sabathia and Ben Sheets the closest thing the league had seen to the Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling duo that led Arizona to the 2001 championship. While the sentiment didn't exactly vanish Tuesday, the prospect of Harden and Carlos Zambrano topping the Cubs' rotation at least muffled it – and brought even more intrigue to the four games the teams will play at the end of July and the six in the season's final two weeks.
"Sure, it makes it fun," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "It's great for everybody. We make a move, they make a move, St. Louis is going to make moves. This is fun for not only the players, but it's fun for the baseball fans, too.
"Does that affect us, right now, today? No. It doesn't. But it still doesn't take away from the fact that, hey, it makes this game really, really interesting. I mean, it makes this division very interesting. And it's going to make the rest of the summer, these last 2½ months, really fun and interesting."
Sabathia did his part, escaping a pair of jams, going 0 for 2 with a pair of Richter Scale-registering hacks, single-handedly accounting for the 42,533-person sellout at Miller Park, causing a frenzy at the merchandise shops that left shelves empty and, in all likelihood, selling his 6-foot-7, 290-pound self as the perfect pitchman for whichever bratwurst company wants him.
"It's like Opening Day, with all the hoopla," Yost said. "Everyone in the world's watching. All these players are creatures of routine, and something like this, as much fun as it is for the fans – and we're all excited, too, don't get me wrong – it definitely adds more to the game than we are normally accustomed to in the middle of the season. This was a big game to get over for CC and all of us."
Standing ovations were standard fare, the first when Sabathia loped onto the field, the last when he snagged a Jayson Nix line drive – "Accident," he admitted – and turned a double play with no outs in the sixth. Two batters later, Hawpe swung through a 93-mph fastball, the Brewers held their 4-3 lead and Sabathia serenaded his glove.
Milwaukee got aggressive to get Sabathia, convinced he was the difference between another disappointing season and its first playoff appearance since 1982. Never mind that he blew up in the postseason last year, losing both his starts in the ALCS against Boston, including the pivotal Game 5. He was CC Sabathia, reigning Cy Young winner, dominant left-hander, scary monster, fate changer.
"I heard someone compare this to Reggie White when he came here," Brewers catcher Jason Kendall said. "Think about that. Reggie White is a god here."
Sabathia called the trade to Milwaukee the "perfect situation," even though he had spent his eight-year career in Cleveland, and the city certainly agreed. Excitement permeated the streets, and not even news of the Harden trade could dampen it. The Cubs managed to acquire another dominant pitcher, a legitimate No. 1 starter – with, of course, the caveat "when healthy" all but tattooed on his forehead – and Milwaukee still rocked.
Sabathia didn't say much about Harden. He figures it's better to play it cool his first few weeks in Milwaukee. He wanted to come out for the seventh inning but didn't push it. He would have loved to see the city his first night in town but caught up on missed sleep instead.
Yes, he stayed quiet. Except for one moment when he couldn't keep it in anymore. Sabathia yelled, and no one could see or hear what he said. And it didn't matter much, either.