NEW YORK — New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia pitched until his body wouldn’t let him.
Until the 58,829th — and final — pitch of his illustrious career.
A career that should end with a plaque in Cooperstown.
Sabathia’s 19-year tenure ended in heartbreaking fashion, as he was forced to leave the mound one last time due to a subluxation of his left shoulder joint during the eighth inning of Thursday’s 8-3 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The 39-year-old was replaced by righty reliever Ben Heller on the ALCS roster, meaning he would be ineligible to return for the World Series should the Yankees manage to pull off a miracle comeback from their 3-1 series deficit.
Sabathia had come back in 2019 for one last shot at another championship ring.
He fought through various injuries — both to his shoulder and knee — to get this far. He didn’t deserve for it to end this way.
“He leaves it all on the field,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. “I don’t know the severity of what’s going on with him, but you can never say that man never gave his all. Every single time he went out here you had to rip the ball and rip his jersey off to get him off that mound.
“He got everything out of that arm. That’s a warrior right there. That’s why he’s been the leader of this team for so many years and why he has so much respect around the game and in this stadium. And it was tough to see, but that’s our leader and he left it all out there.”
Think about this: Sabathia was MLB’s active leader in wins, innings pitched, starts, strikeouts, complete games, home runs allowed, walks, hits allowed, losses, earned runs allowed, hit-by-pitches and batters faced.
And according to baseball researcher Katie Sharp, he is one of only three pitchers with 250 wins, 3,000 strikeouts, a Cy Young Award and a postseason (LCS or WS) MVP. The others: Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson.
“It’s tough,” Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks said. “He’s a great person, great player, and obviously he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. He means a lot to this team, this organization, and to see him go out like that, it’s not something you want.”
At his peak, Sabathia put the Milwaukee Brewers on his back in 2008 and carried them into the playoffs, risking a massive payday by pitching on short rest. The Yankees ultimately backed up the money truck in the offseason — to the tune of seven years, $161 million — and he rewarded them by dealing in October en route to his only title.
“The New York Yankees would not have their 27th world championship without him,” former teammate Alex Rodriguez said on Fox as he was on the verge of tears. “And I love him like a brother. I thank him for our world championship. In 2009, when he came here, he changed the paradigm shift of our entire team, the clubhouse and the franchise. The Yankees became the No. 1 team in baseball because of CC Sabathia.”
There were several highs and lows from there. All-Star appearances, knee surgeries and cortisone shots. A trip to rehab to get his alcohol problem under control. And Sabathia also reinvented himself on the mound, learning how to finesse his way through outings as his velocity abandoned him.
Sabathia was a leader on and off the field. He chirped at his opponents, and Yankees fans absolutely loved him for it. So did his teammates. But 56,537 regular-season pitches and 2,292 postseason pitches later, his body reached its breaking point.
He appeared to favor his shoulder after making a 1-1 pitch to Astros center fielder George Springer with two outs in the eighth. Yankees manager Aaron Boone and trainer Steve Donahue immediately came out to visit him. Sabathia tried to throw a warmup pitch but that was it.
He exited to a standing ovation as he walked off the field. But he was dejected. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Still, CC Sabathia is a warrior. A deserving Hall of Famer, too. And no one will ever be able to take that away from him.
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