Still, the veteran -- whose first fastball was just 90 mph -- continued to find ways to get it done, striking out nine Indians and exiting with a lead Wednesday night during the Yankees' 5-2 win in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan. New York won the series, 3-2, to advance to the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World, where the Yanks will face the Astros.
Sabathia outdueled Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, with the righty going 3 2/3 innings and surrendering three earned runs on a pair of homers by Didi Gregorius.
"When Didi hit the home run early, it just gave me a lot of confidence to go out there and fill up the strike zone and try to get some swings early in the count," Sabathia said. "And it ended up working out for us."
"That's CC. That's who he is," said manager Joe Girardi. "That's been who he's been his whole life, the guy you can count on. And he did it again tonight. This 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."
For the first four innings, Sabathia -- who got the ball over Sonny Gray -- was everything the Yankees could have hoped for: calm, collected and on cruise control.
"He's just a calming presence when he's out on the mound," said Brett Gardner. "You know what to expect from him, you know he's going to give you all he's got. And I think it all started with him, having him out there on the mound and knowing he was going to do what he could to keep them at bay."
Sabathia retired 13 of 14, with the Tribe not recording a baserunner until Francisco Lindor's leadoff single in the fourth. The big lefty responded to that hit by retiring the next three in a row, including strikeouts of Jason Kipnis and Edwin Encarnacion.
In Game 2, the Indians were 0-for-9 with four strikeouts against his slider. Sabathia used that pitch frequently again on Wednesday, getting two strikeouts in the first inning -- Lindor and Kipnis -- swinging at the slider.
Sabathia had just 51 pitches as he took the mound for the fifth, with a one-out single to Austin Jackson proving to be the start of a quick end to his outing. The Tribe got four straight hits, including RBI singles from bottom-of-the-order bats Roberto Perez and Giovanny Urshela, to chase Sabathia from the game. Reliever David Robertson got Lindor to ground into a double play to end the fifth, keeping Sabathia's line at two earned runs.
"It's incredible," said Aaron Judge. "That's the guy we want on the mound. In a big-time situation like this, that's who we want at the mound. Our guy's been through it all -- he's been through the tough playoff runs, and he went out there and produced just like we knew he would."
Sabathia is coming off a 14-5 regular season in which he made 27 starts and battled a balky left knee. He allowed 61 earned runs over 148 2/3 innings for a 3.69 ERA, and the Yanks went 19-8 in his starts. The 37-year-old has reinvented himself from a power arm to a guy who relies on experience and feel as much as a still-impressive repertoire. Manager Joe Girardi knew Sabathia wouldn't be fazed by the big stage, and he was right. Sabathia entered the game 6-1 with a 3.81 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) across eight Division Series.
"This team has battled all year," Sabathia said. "And it was just our time. It's a good team, it's a close-knit team and we all pull for each other, and I think that goes a long way."