CLEVELAND -- The ballpark is typically a comfortable place for CC Sabathia. But in his final All-Star Game experience, he was about as far out of that comfort zone as he’s been in some time.
From the pregame speech he didn’t really want to make to his ceremonial first pitch, Sabathia’s night was already memorable as he watched his American League team defeat the National League, 4-3, in Tuesday’s All-Star Game presented by Mastercard.
As the ninth inning approached and Aroldis Chapman warmed up in the Progressive Field bullpen, AL manager Alex Cora unveiled his final trick of the night.
“Alex and [Red Sox coach] Ramon Vazquez came to me and asked, ‘When Chappy gets out there, do you want to go make a mound visit?’” Sabathia said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’”
Chapman made quick work of J.T. Realmuto and Max Muncy, striking out both batters to move the AL one out from victory. Sabathia emerged from the dugout, causing Chapman to glance to the AL bullpen to see if anybody was warming up to get the final out.
“When I saw him out there at the beginning, I thought he was going to take me out of the game,” Chapman said through a translator. “I looked over at the bullpen and nobody was warming up, so things are not making sense.”
Sabathia informed his Yankees teammate that he was simply checking on him, though the true motive for the mound visit was to allow the Cleveland crowd one last chance to salute Sabathia, who spent the first 7 1/2 years of his career with the Indians.
“It was to recognize that he's one of the best pitchers in the big leagues for the last, what, 15 years,” Cora said. “The guy has won more than 250 games, 3,000 strikeouts; everything started here in Cleveland. We all know he's going to retire, so we wanted to let everybody know who he is, and I think it was a nice tribute.”
Sabathia’s mound visit evoked memories of Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter removing Mariano Rivera from the final game of his career back in 2013, a moment Sabathia witnessed from the Yankees’ dugout.
“I got nervous when I got out there, like, ‘What am I supposed to say? If he gives up a hit after, it’s my fault,’” Sabathia said. “To be able to have our own little thing out there during the All-Star Game was really cool.”
Sabathia might have felt some apprehension making what he called “an awkward walk” to the mound, but Chapman thought his teammate was more anxious before the game as he addressed the AL squad in the clubhouse.
“When he spoke to us before the game, that was the first time I’ve seen him a little nervous,” Chapman said. “It was a great moment, understanding this is his last season, and he’s here as part of the celebration, it was a great experience. It’s something I will always cherish.”
Cora had asked Sabathia to make a pregame speech -- “You know I wouldn’t have done it myself,” Sabathia quipped after the game -- to his AL teammates, which the pitcher reluctantly did. That job had belonged to Ichiro Suzuki for many years, his profanity-laced tirades becoming part of this century’s All-Star lore.
Sabathia took a more measured approach to his speech, telling his teammates to enjoy the experience, thanking them for their support both this week and throughout his career, then closing with some simple advice: “Let’s go kick their a--.”
“It was terrible,” Sabathia said after the AL’s victory. “It did work and we won, but it was terrible.”
His AL teammates had a much different take on things.
“He said, ‘Just enjoy it,’” Mariners first baseman Daniel Vogelbach said. “He was just thankful to be here. He’s an awesome guy, and there isn’t much he hasn’t done in this game. So when he talks, you listen.”
“It was kind of his farewell speech, it seemed like,” Orioles pitcher John Means added. “He was very genuine in what he said.”
The ceremonial first pitch took Sabathia on another trip down memory lane, as Sandy Alomar Jr. -- who played for the Indians as Sabathia was coming up through the system -- caught his throw.
“Sitting down there talking to Sandy, just kind of reminiscing and stuff, then getting out there, it was a little nerve-wracking,” Sabathia said. “It was really cool. Then he got on me again; ‘Throw the ball down.’”
For Sabathia, taking part in one final All-Star Game was meaningful in so many ways, including one last chance for him to say goodbye to Cleveland.
“Thank you and I love you,” Sabathia said when asked if he had a message for Indians fans. “One regret in my career is not winning the championship here. … It will always be a place where I feel like I grew up. I came here at 17 years old, like a boy. Left here 27 years old with three kids -- grown man. It will always be a special place for me.”
Sabathia’s night was memorable for so many reasons, including the fact that Masahiro Tanaka earned the win and Chapman recorded the save. Gary Sánchez went 1-for-2 with a double and a run scored, Gleyber Torres went 1-for-2, while DJ LeMahieu was hitless in two at-bats.
“It was a really good Yankee night,” said Sabathia, who felt especially good for Tanaka, who threw a scoreless second inning to become the first Yankees pitcher to get the win in an All-Star Game since Vic Raschi in 1948. “Obviously if he didn’t get hurt his first year, he would have started the All-Star Game. To see him back here and pitch well was good.”
“Needless to say how special it is to be able to pitch on this stage,” Tanaka said through a translator. “It is a very special day for me.”
Chapman made some history of his own as he struck out the side, tying Fernando Valenzuela’s record for the most consecutive strikeouts (six) in All-Star play.
“It felt great,” Chapman said. “Especially the way I got the job done tonight, it was special.”
Sabathia lingered around the Indians’ clubhouse after the game, saying goodbye to everybody from clubhouse employees to security guards. He and the Yankees will resume their march toward October on Friday, but for this night, Sabathia was soaking in one last Midsummer Classic in the place where it all started for him.
“The whole two days being here, the fan reception, the way the players have received me; they didn’t have to treat me like an All-Star being here honorary,” Sabathia said. “It’s been a cool experience.”
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.