NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia’s commute to Yankee Stadium seemed ordinary on Sunday morning, rolling out of his New Jersey driveway and crossing the George Washington Bridge, just like he has been doing for more than a decade. The hurler said he didn’t realize until later that it was his final regular-season home game as an active player.
The Yankees celebrated Sabathia’s 19-year career prior to Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, recognizing the left-hander with a tribute that included messages from teammates past and present. A second video, featuring letters written to the hurler by his mother Margie, wife Amber and their four children, had Sabathia wiping away tears.
“This is the first time I got emotional,” Sabathia said. “I don't know why, but for whatever reason, just seeing my kids and how much they loved the game, being around the park. We're definitely going to miss it.”
As part of the ceremony, Yankees manager Aaron Boone presented Sabathia with a one-of-a-kind painting by pop artist Charles Fazzino that recognized many of the left-hander’s career achievements. On behalf of the organization, general manager Brian Cashman delivered a 10-day vacation to Japan for Sabathia and his family, to be taken at his leisure.
“I’m from Vallejo, [Calif.]; from the inner city, from the ‘hood,’” Sabathia said. “Just making it was a big deal. I never thought past that first year. To be able to play this long is a blessing. To be able to play here, for this organization, has been a blessing. To win a championship, that’s all stuff I never could have imagined.”
In his remarks to the crowd, Sabathia thanked the Steinbrenner family and Cashman for “believing in me enough to bring me here” prior to the 2009 season. Sabathia also thanked his teammates, the clubhouse staff, trainers and the fans for “letting me play in front of you guys for the last 11 years, giving you everything I have.”
“You kind of get choked up when you see the letters that his mom, his family wrote for him,” Aaron Judge said. “That was a touching moment and I just tried to soak it all in. I tried to enjoy the whole thing. I enjoyed the crowd’s reaction, his reaction, his family’s reaction and that’s something I’ll definitely never forget.”
“That one had a real personal feel to that, with Amber and the kids and obviously Ms. Margie reading messages to CC,” Brett Gardner added. “I needed to put my sunglasses on when they started doing that, because CC just means a lot to me.”
At the suggestion of senior vice president of marketing Debbie Tymon, the Yanks tabbed Sabathia to toss the ceremonial first pitch to his mother, a one-time softball star who used to catch the Little Leaguer in their California backyard until she couldn’t handle his increasing velocity.
“She was just excited,” Sabathia said. “I don't even know what she sacrificed to get me here. She's got to be excited with how things turned out. I was just happy she was able to be here and celebrate and enjoy this moment with me.”
Sabathia had a gift for his teammates earlier in the week, procuring dozens of signature Nike Jordan cleats, each with Sabathia’s No. 52 embroidered into the tongue. Sabathia said that he followed the lead of Yanks legends Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, both of whom produced similar gifts for the roster in their final weeks wearing the uniform.
“I don't think there's anyone that has more respect from the people in that room -- from the players, staff, myself,” Boone said. “When you have a guy like that, that's an accomplished future Hall of Famer, that lives and breathes [that] it's about team and it's about us having a chance to win, I think that rubs off on all the guys.”
This time of transition sees Sabathia taking on a new challenge as he prepares for a bullpen role that he called both “exciting” and “nerve-wracking.”
Sabathia is expected to make the first regular-season relief appearance of his career on Tuesday against the Rays, and he could make another against the Rangers to prepare for the possibility of filling that role on the American League Division Series roster.
“When the team needs it, you do whatever you can,” Sabathia said. “This is my role going forward so I’m going to embrace it. Hopefully, I can step up and fill it.”
While Sabathia has said that he probably would have already retired if not for his desire to win another World Series, he believes that it should be a seamless move into retirement. He is interested in an advisory role with the Yanks, saying that he has spoken to Carlos Beltrán and Andy Pettitte on that topic, and Sabathia will continue his forays into the media world as well.
“I don’t think I’m going to miss the competition. I think I’ll miss the guys,” Sabathia said. “I think 19 years of pitching the way that I have, emotionally, I’m kind of exhausted. It’ll be good next year to just give that a break and give my body a break. But I’ll definitely miss the guys, the relationships I have in here. That’s what I’ll miss the most, for sure.”
The Yankees’ postseason pitching plans gained some clarity after Sunday’s game, when Boone announced that the club will use openers on Tuesday and Wednesday at Tampa Bay. James Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka will start the final three games of the regular season beginning on Friday at Texas.
J.A. Happ said that he was told his next appearance will come as a reliever on Wednesday against the Rays, suggesting that the left-hander may not start in the postseason. The Yankees successfully utilized a three-man rotation for their 2009 World Series championship, in which they defeated Happ’s Phillies.
“The whole thing is about finding a way to win,” said Happ, who is 12-8 with a 5.01 ERA in 30 starts but has pitched better of late. “I think now in the playoffs, I doubt we’re the only team that may go this route. Even if we are, it’s whatever it takes to win. That’s what I came here for: to win.”
Edwin Encarnación (left oblique strain) continues to increase activity and is expected to be in the lineup for the Sept. 27-29 series against the Rangers in Texas.
Aaron Hicks (right flexor strain) has thrown at distances up to 90 feet during his rehab at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, Fla., and he is said to be encouraged about his chances of avoiding surgery. Boone said that he would not expect Hicks to return for the postseason, however.
Gary Sánchez (left groin strain) has squatted and thrown, and he was scheduled to hit indoors on Sunday. Boone said that he believes Sánchez could return for the Rangers series, and almost certainly for the American League Division Series.
There is no set plan to have Jordan Montgomery on the mound, though the left-hander remains active and available. The club wants to use those innings to evaluate stronger contenders for the postseason roster, a group that includes Luis Cessa, Nestor Cortes, Cory Gearrin, Jonathan Loaisiga, Tyler Lyons and Stephen Tarpley.
As anticipated, Gleyber Torres was not in the Yankees’ lineup on Sunday, two days after he tweaked his right hamstring fielding a ground ball up the middle. An MRI taken on Saturday revealed no concerns, but Boone opted for caution considering Monday’s off-day.
This date in Yankees history
Sept. 22, 1946: Yogi Berra made his Major League debut, going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, a 4-3 Yankees victory. Berra passed away at age 90 exactly 69 years to the date, on Sept. 22, 2015.