Knee-replacement surgery in CC's future
NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia is pitching with bone-on-bone arthritis in his right knee, he told MLB.com as Sunday night turned into Monday morning.
"Big time," said Sabathia after gutting out six innings of one-run, five-hit ball to help the Yankees win the Subway Series by clobbering the Mets at Citi Field, 11-2.
Asked if he ultimately would need knee-replacement surgery, Sabathia said, "Eventually, but that's the price you pay."
With all eyes on Mets starter Matt Harvey -- who was pulled after five innings and 77 pitches having allowed only one hit -- Sabathia almost quietly made his third start since coming back from missing 16 days on the disabled list. The big left-hander is able to pitch thanks to a brace on the knee that allows him to land on his front leg without feeling any pain, making his 111-pitch, seven-strikeout performance that much more remarkable.
"I wasn't sure if we were going to get him back," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I asked him after a couple of days of wearing the brace, 'How's it feel?' He said, 'It's all right, it's all right.'
"It made me feel that if he's going to buy into wearing the brace, he's got a chance, because he was pitching pretty well before he got hurt. And that's exactly what's happened."
Sabathia said the ligament brace keeps the joints in his knee from rubbing when the leg hits the ground. Before he began using it, he'd never know when to expect a jolt of pain on any given pitch.
Right now the brace allows him to maintain his proper mechanics, and he looks like the CC of old. He's allowed two runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts. Sunday's win was his first since June 7, a run of 14 consecutive starts without a victory.
His last time out, on Sept. 14 in St. Petersburg, he pitched 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball and allowed only three hits. The Yanks came back to win that one with four runs in the top of the ninth.
Sabathia is 35 years old and has 2,977 innings and 15 seasons of wear and tear on his body. But it shows the sheer nature of his tenacity that he's giving the Yankees just what they need heading down the stretch and into the regular season's final two weeks.
"That's what drives me more than anything else, not letting the team down," he said. "This feels good. If anybody knows me, it hurts me more to let the team down than myself. First of all, to be healthy, and then for me to go out and help the team get wins, it feels good."
Sabathia has two starts remaining as the Yanks try to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2012. Both of those starts will come at Yankee Stadium, against the White Sox on Friday night and against the Red Sox on Sept. 30.
Between now and then, the Yanks have a little matter of a three-game series beginning Monday night against the American League East-leading Blue Jays in Toronto. The Yanks trail the Blue Jays by 2 1/2 games and face the series with starters Adam Warren, rookie Luis Severino and Ivan Nova (replacing Masahiro Tanaka).
The alternative is a berth in the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, perhaps at the Stadium, on Oct. 6. The Yanks have a four-game lead over Houston for the top spot and are 6 1/2 games over the Angels and Twins for the second.
Girardi seemed nonplussed by the latest development with Tanaka, who will miss the Wednesday start and remain in New York because of a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring, saying, "I think you want a chance, that's all you can ask for in this game."
Clearly, given the shortcomings and injuries among the starters, the Yanks need outings like the one Sabathia provided on Sunday night more than ever.
The Mets opened the game with back-to-back doubles for an immediate one-run lead. Sabathia then struck out Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Uribe before walking the bases loaded. Both the Mets and CC were on the brink, but Michael Cuddyer popped out into foul territory for the biggest out of the game. The Mets had two more runners in scoring position against Sabathia the rest of the way.
"I've always said he's important to us, because he's been through this and he's a competitor," Girardi said. "Like I said, I really didn't think we were going to get him back after he left that game [against Cleveland on Aug. 23]. But he fought through it."
When the surgically repaired knee gives out for good is anybody's guess. But as Sabathia so aptly put it, to compete for so many years at this level, that is the price the great ones pay. And Sabathia is continuing to pay it forward with a vengeance.