10 defining moments of CC's storied career

July 21st, 2022

pitched in the Majors for 19 seasons and accomplished a lot in that time. He made six All-Star teams, won an American League Cy Young Award (2007), captured a World Series title ('09), and crossed the 250-win and 3,000-strikeout marks. Add in the left-hander's magnetic personality and status as one of the game's great ambassadors, and you have a career that will leave a lasting legacy.

Sabathia is thriving in retirement as well, but let's take a trip back in time through his Major League journey to reflect on 10 performances that best capture his story.

April 8, 2001: A memorable debut
Manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Dick Pole had pounded the table for the 20-year-old Sabathia to start the 2001 season with Cleveland despite “C.C.” (he still had the periods in his initials back then) having yet to set foot in Triple-A. The front office nervously relented, and while Sabathia, the organization's first-round pick out of Vallejo (Calif.) High School in 1998, had a lot of maturation in front of him in terms of controlling his emotions on the mound, he basically backed up the belief of his skipper and coach with this encouraging debut against the Orioles at Progressive Field (then called Jacobs Field).

Sabathia allowed three runs on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings in a 4-3 victory, and he was on his way to a 17-win season in which he would get the ball (and earn the win) in Game 3 of the AL Division Series vs. the Mariners. His only disappointment in his debut was that his first strikeout came against Mike Kinkade.

"I remember thinking that it's kind of wack, because I faced Mike Kinkade a bunch in the Minor Leagues," Sabathia told ESPN. "I was wishing it was like Cal Ripken or somebody.”

Sept. 28, 2007: Capping a Cy Young season
It wasn’t until midway through the 2005 season that Sabathia, by employing more breaking balls early in counts and maintaining a more unflappable mound mentality, began to reach his elite ceiling. And it was in this '07 season that he truly put it all together. Sabathia had a stretch of 10 straight starts from late-July to mid-September in which he didn’t allow more than two runs in any outing.

While this season-capper was, on its own, nothing outlandish (three runs allowed on eight hits over seven innings in a 5-3 win), it represented something bigger. This was Sabathia’s 100th career win and his final start in a season rewarded with what would turn out to be his only Cy Young Award. He went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in a Major League-high 241 innings, with a 5.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“At 27,” said Carl Willis, his pitching coach at the time, “to have that type of confidence in all your pitches is tremendous.”

June 21, 2008: Slugging CC
Though Sabathia was not consulted for this list, we have a feeling he’d rank this moment pretty high on his personal pecking order. The dude loved the opportunity to hit, and this bomb off Chan Ho Park at Dodger Stadium was one of three home runs in his 127 career plate appearances.

While all three played a part in a team win, this 440-foot solo shot felt a little bit bigger because of the esteem of the venue (where Sabathia had a large throng of friends and family in attendance) and the fact it was the only run scored by Cleveland in “regulation” (the club went on to score six runs in the 11th in a 7-2 victory).

“Little C told me I can’t hit,” Sabathia said of his then-4-year-old son, Carsten Charles III, “because I can’t hit on his video game. I had to show him I can hit.”

Aug. 31, 2008: A near no-no
The Milwaukee Brewers went all-in several weeks prior to the 2008 Trade Deadline with a blockbuster deal for the pending free agent Sabathia, and he rewarded their aggression with one of the greatest second halves any of us have ever seen. This was Sabathia’s best start as a Brewer -- a one-hit shutout in a 7-0 win over the Pirates, at a time when every win was of pivotal importance.

And the one hit was controversial. In the fifth inning, Andy LaRoche hit a little squibber near the mound that Sabathia tried to barehand but dropped. It could have been ruled an error.

"That's a joke," Milwaukee manager Ned Yost told reporters afterward. "The scorekeeper absolutely denied Major League Baseball a no-hitter."

Sabathia would have other flirtations with a no-hitter (with the Yankees, he took one into the eighth on April 10, 2010, against the Rays) but nothing quite like this.

Sept. 28, 2008: Putting the Brew Crew on his back
Sabathia’s selflessness down the stretch of the 2008 season will probably be his most lasting legacy in terms of performance. Despite his looming free agency and the tens of millions of dollars on the line, he took the ball on three days’ rest three times and threw 335 pitches in the last nine days of the regular season. Sabathia’s agent thought it was crazy.

But Sabathia felt it was well worth it for a Brew Crew club that had invested in him and that hadn’t been to the postseason in 26 years.

"It was no conversation between me and the Brewers," Sabathia told MLB.com later in his career. "We didn't have pitching, so I just told them, 'I'm pitching.' It was me telling them I'm pitching on three days' rest. I was young, I felt good, I was having fun, the team was good, and I didn't want the season to end. If that meant I had to pitch on three days' rest, then that's what I had to do."

And in this regular-season finale against the Cubs, CC (the periods were officially dropped when he made the move to Milwaukee) did it again in a 3-1 victory, allowing just one unearned run to seal the NL Wild Card spot.

Oct. 16 and 20, 2009: Push to the Fall Classic
This was why the Yankees made a then-record seven-year, $161 million investment in Sabathia prior to the 2009 season. CC made two starts in the ALCS against the Angels -- the team that many people (Sabathia included) thought would land the lefty the previous winter, before the Yanks blew everybody else out of the water. In those two starts, he allowed just two runs on nine hits with three walks and 12 strikeouts over 16 innings.

Much like Sabathia’s Milwaukee moment, he made the second start, in Game 4, on short rest. It helped New York wrap the series up in six games and progress toward a World Series title over the Phillies. He was effective in his two World Series starts, too, but his MVP performance over the Halos was his true career zenith.

“This is a great feeling,” Sabathia told reporters after the ALCS. “This is what you come here for, to play in the postseason games and try to perform.”

Oct. 12, 2012: Going the distance
In this ALDS, the Orioles were playing their first playoff series in 15 years and pushed the loaded Yanks to the limit. But Sabathia brought the hammer down in the winner-take-all Game 5. He had already recorded all but one out in a Game 1 victory. Then Sabathia came back for more and went the distance, allowing just one run on four hits with two walks and nine strikeouts to punch the Yankees’ ticket to the ALCS against the Tigers.

“He showed why he’s making all that money,” catcher Russell Martin told reporters afterward. “He’s the man. He’s the horse of this team.”

Oct. 11, 2017: Back to his old stomping grounds
That brilliant Game 5 effort in 2012 was essentially the end of the first version of CC Sabathia -- the overpowering lefty. All those innings, all those short-rest starts caught up to him and diminished his once-impressive velocity. Instead, he had to learn how to become a crafty southpaw, and it took some time. Sabathia bottomed out with a 2014 season in which he made just eight starts and had a 5.28 ERA while dealing with knee issues.

But with the adoption of a cutter and the application of everything he had learned about reading opponents’ swings, Sabathia found a new way to provide value to his team. And it best demonstrated itself in this return to his roots, where he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans by outpitching that year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, with nine strikeouts in 4 1/3 effective innings plus a nifty sliding catch of a bunt. The 5-2 victory sent the Yanks to the ALCS.

"That's CC. That's who he is," manager Joe Girardi said afterward. "That's been who he's been his whole life, the guy you can count on. And he did it again tonight.”

Sept. 27, 2018: Backing up a teammate
Look, we’re not here to advocate intentional plunkings. But if anybody wanted or needed a window into why Sabathia was so beloved by his teammates, this was it. After Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge threw behind the head of the Yankees’ Austin Romine, Sabathia pegged Jesus Sucre in the left thigh in retaliation to open the sixth inning, then pointed into Tampa Bay's dugout and said, “That’s for you, [expletive]!”

With both dugouts having been warned, Sabathia knew he’d be ejected, and that was significant because he was just two innings shy of triggering a bonus in his contract that would have paid him $500,000. He did it anyway. (And in the offseason, the Yankees paid him anyway.)

“I don’t really make decisions based on money, I guess,” Sabathia told reporters after this game. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

May 1, 2019: Joining the 3k K Club
Milestones matter when a player’s career is put through the rigor of the Hall of Fame voting process, and Sabathia reached a big one in his final season when he became just the 17th member of the 3K club and only the third lefty, joining Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.

Sabathia did it in a five-pitch at-bat against the D-backs’ John Ryan Murphy to end the second inning, and he was met with celebratory hugs from his teammates outside the dugout and his family near the first-base camera well.

“To be on that list of guys with 3,000 strikeouts is hard to grasp,” Sabathia said. “It’s hard to think about, but it’s cool to be on that list.”

To witness this fantastic 19-season career was pretty cool, too.