10/21/09 2:56 AM ET
Relaxed Sabathia mows down Halos
On three days' rest, ace gives up one run over eight frames
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The Hall of Famer spotted the ace, hours away from pitching in front of a sellout crowd and national television audience, lounging around Angel Stadium in a hooded Yankees sweatshirt and amiably chatting with everyone in sight.
Looking up, Sabathia caught Jackson's stare and asked, "Hey Reg? What time does the game start?"
That's Sabathia, never allowing you to see him sweat and not taking things too seriously, keeping the same easygoing attitude no matter how the events of the day are playing out.
The left-hander only had to chuckle at the media firestorm that marveled at his eight innings of five-hit ball, pitching on three days' rest to lift the Yankees to a 10-1 victory and one win from dismissing the Angels in the ALCS and proceeding to the World Series.
"I mean, this is the time to do it," Sabathia said. "I've been feeling well pretty much the whole second half, throwing strikes and getting ahead. I'm just doing these type of things, so I feel good. Hopefully I'll just keep it going, keep it rolling, and we win the whole thing."
This is the natural demeanor that comes to Sabathia, because as easygoing as he makes it seem, it actually is this simple for him.
At Yankee Stadium one afternoon this summer, Sabathia was thinking back to his short-lived football career and remarked that he'd chosen baseball instead, because his frustration level had been so much less and he felt like he didn't have to work nearly as hard at it.
When it was brought to Sabathia's attention that probably had more to do with his tremendous pitching gifts than his gridiron shortcomings, he flashed a toothy grin and shrugged his shoulders, as though he hadn't considered that fact.
"I think it's important that you can be the same person no matter what the stakes are," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You know, sometimes people get a little overanxious or hyped up. I've not ever seen that during the course of the season with CC. He's the same guy every day. I think that's one of the big plusses about him, because it allows him to do his job every time."
The Yankees' ultimate plan with Sabathia was to stagger him late in the season so they would have this silver bullet to fire in October, knowing that Sabathia made his final three regular-season starts of 2008 on short rest for the Brewers before wearing down in the National League Division Series.
Sabathia later would mention how the mental stress of needing to fuel Milwaukee's improbable playoff hopes had worn him down more than the actual physical labor of pitching. He is still mildly superstitious about that topic.
"I felt like I was pretty locked in last year," Sabathia said. "I feel pretty good right now. I don't want to jinx anything or say anything I shouldn't. But I've been feeling pretty good."
Sabathia shouldn't worry about needing to shoulder the entire load for the Yankees. Here, he is another expensive piece on the Steinbrenner payroll, just expected to do his part. It allows him a certain freedom.
"I mean, it's fabulous," Jackson said. "The game starts at 4:57 and he goes out at 4:20. It's wonderful. I like to just watch him warm up. It's nice to watch."
Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland also kept a close eye on Sabathia's tosses in the bullpen and knew early on that Sabathia was wearing his "gamer" hat, which he said was the ultimate compliment.
"My big thing was, I wasn't worried about velocity. I was worried about command," Eiland said. "His warmups before the game in the bullpen, his command was there. After the first inning, I saw him take it out there and I knew he was fine.
"I kept an eye on him to see if his back side started to collapse, because I'd know if he was getting tired. That never happened. As a matter of fact, he got stronger as the game went on."
Sabathia would allow just one run, serving up a fifth-inning solo blast to the Angels' Kendry Morales as he efficiently navigated a 101-pitch outing, walking two and striking out five.
BETTER IN THE BRONX
|CC Sabathia entered 2009 with a history of postseason duds, but he has hit his stride with the Yankees.|
"I don't think there was a doubt in this entire room. He's so strong," Mark Teixeira said. "He's done it before. At this point of the season, there's no room to be tired. I don't think anybody can say they're tired during the playoffs, so I didn't think anyone thought there was going to be a problem with CC."
From the bullpen, Phil Hughes said that he had a pretty good idea he wouldn't be sniffing the mound since Sabathia's stare was intact.
"I think not only it helps having him on the mound, but I think we came in a little more relaxed and confident that we're going to get a good performance out of him," Hughes said. "Who knows? Maybe it relaxes our hitters a little bit and we're able to score some runs.
"Obviously it's a good feeling for us down in the bullpen that, worst-case scenario, we're going to get at least into the seventh with him, and he's going to hang around and keep us in the ballgame."
It is a recipe the Yankees have gleefully seen turned in at various points this year, and an insurance policy that they have grown accustomed to seeing on display every fifth day.
"I don't think words can really describe how well he's done," Nick Swisher said. "I'm glad he's on our team. He's our workhorse. He's our ace. He said that's why he came over here, to pitch in these big games.
"Right now, there's nobody who comes to mind that I'd rather have on that mound than him. He's doing a tremendous job."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.