Russell: Yankees Sabathia Pitching Like Vintage CC

Before Wednesday’s game, Joe Girardi was asked what made C.C. Sabathia such a good stopper.

“The competitive spirit inside of C.C.,” Girardi said. “You know C.C.’s really had good stuff over his career and he has been a stopper and been an ace. But I always talk about the competitive fire that burns in C.C. It’s special.”

Sabathia won his fifth start in a row, each one coming after a Yankees loss. On Wednesday, Sabathia pitched eight innings of shutout ball, scattering five hits and retiring the last 12 batters he faced in the Yankees 8-0 win over the Red Sox. Sabathia doesn’t necessarily see himself as a stopper, instead focusing on his own starts. “Oh man, I don’t think about that,” Sabathia said. “I just try to go every time and give the team a good chance to win. And I was able to do that again today.”

It came at a good time, after Boston beat Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday and the Red Sox were breathing down New York’s neck in the standings.

Sabathia hasn’t looked this good since 2012, when he went 15-6. In 2013, he went 14-13 with an ERA of 4.78. Injuries limited him to eight starts in 2014, and then he went 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA in 2015. The lefty showed some improvement last season but was still 9-12. Problems to his right knee, more than simple ineffectiveness, had him questioning if he could pitch at his Cy Young caliber level once again. “Being hurt was the biggest thing and just not knowing the future, especially at my age,” said Sabathia, who will turn 37 in July. “So to be able to be healthy and repeat my delivery feels really good.”

Many likely doubted that Sabathia could pitch as well as he did in his Cy Young award year of 2007 with the Indians, 2008 playoff run performance with the Brewers or his first four seasons with the Yankees.

Sabathia was 2-2 after getting hit hard in Cincinnati on May 9 but his skipper didn’t doubt that the southpaw could return to form. “Because of the way he competes,” Girardi said. “He’s always been that guy. He’s a fierce competitor and when you have that in you, you have the ability to make changes and to figure things out. And it took him some time. It took him some time to figure out what he had to do. But C.C’s, there’s a lot of heart in that guy.”

In his last five starts, Sabathia has given up five runs (four earned) in 32.1 innings. All of a sudden Sabathia is 7-2. His win on Wednesday marked the 230th of his career, passing 1923 Yankee Sad Sam Jones and former Yankee and Red Sox starter Luis Tiant.

In front of 44,380 fans, Sabathia’s performance helped the Yankees remain in first place for another day. The youth movement is arriving but it’s the 17-season veteran coming up big. “It’s a long way to go but it feels good to be contributing,” Sabathia said. “That’s the biggest thing. These guys have been playing well. It’s a young team, we’ve been playing really good and you just want to be a part of it.”

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