The Yankees will turn to their veteran lefthander for Game 2 of another playoff series in need of a victory, with CC Sabathia cast in the role of former teammate Andy Pettitte all of these years later.Sabathia clearly faces a daunting task in attempting to match dominant Indians ace Corey Kluber on Friday, one day after Trevor Bauer and ex-Met Jay Bruce inflicted the majority of the pain in a 4-0 Yankee loss in opener of the AL division series.There is so much more to Sabathia’s story the past few years, of course, but his designation for Game 2 should tell you all you need to know about the unanticipated renaissance and reinvention he has enjoyed this season as elder statesman of a diverse pitching staff and clubhouse in the Bronx.Regardless of how he pitches in opposition of Kluber, the Cy Young frontrunner, Sabathia already has proved he deserves for his baseball career to continue beyond 2017.And he has proved that the Yankees could do far worse than bringing back the big lefty when the hefty contract they have been waiting to clear from their books for a few years finally expires at end of this month.“In my mind, I definitely feel like I’m capable of pitching, but I feel like I needed to go out and prove that,” Sabathia told before Game 1. “I felt like this year I did that, being able to go out and when I’m healthy, to be able to pitch effectively and help the team win baseball games.”Sabathia, 37 years old has dealt with various injury issues in recent years, plus a trip to alcohol rehab, and he sounded as if he feared his career was over as recently as August in Toronto, when his surgically repaired right knee caused him so much pain following one abbreviated start that he considered simply “going home.”An MRI exam that revealed no additional structural damage and what he described as a frank pep talk from his wife, Amber, helped relieve Sabathia’s mind. And following a 10-day stint on DL, he returned to the mound with the brace he’d worn late last year and finished on a 6-2 final kick with a 2.91 ERA over his last eight appearances.His overall numbers (14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 148.2 innings over 27 starts) should earn him a one-year offer for considerably less money for 2018 from the Yankees, who willingly went the year to year route with great success with the likes of Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Hiroki Kuroda near close of their stellar careers.“I think it all goes down to his heart and his mental toughness,” Joe Girardi said of Sabathia’s 2017 regular season. “He’s been through a lot in his career, expectations, the ups and downs, having to reinvent himself, changing his power-pitcher mentality. But I think he’s always handled it because of the mental toughness.“I think he was as much scared in Toronto as anything, but once he got good news he was like ‘OK, I’m good to go.’”Two months later, Sabathia vowed he’s “ready to go” against his original major-league organization. He will oppose Kluber in what appeared to be a risky hedge by Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who held back his ace and came out looking like a genius in starting Bauer (6.2 scoreless innings) in opener with the chance to also pitch Kluber either in Game 5 or in the opener of the ALCS, if the Indians advance.Similarly, Yanks were willing to take their chances with deadline import Sonny Gray, who lasted just 3.1 innings in Game 1, followed by Sabathia. The latter notably has been the definition of a stopper all year, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 starts immediately following a Yankees loss, and they need him to live up to that reputation now more than ever.
Sabathia scoffed at the significance of that stat, of course, just as he scoffed at the hullabaloo here concerning the Yankees’ official Twitter account trolling Cleveland hoops star LeBron James, who was in attendance, with an old picture of The King in a cap featuring the interlocking NY.“I know he’s a Yankee fan,” CC said of LeBron, “but I think he has to put on a front for city.”Sabathia knows The Land well, spending most of the first eight years of his career here including copping AL Cy Young honors in 2007, the previous time these teams met in postseason play before donning pinstripes for the last nine in the Bronx.“Obviously, it’s exciting to come back to Cleveland. I kind of grew up here,” Sabathia said. “But I think I’m a Yankee now. This is where I spent most of my career now. Nine years here, I won a championship here. So I think people will remember me as a Yankee.”Remembering all they’ve been through together, the Yankees and Sabathia should sign on for a 10th year. He has earned that much, regardless of what happens on Friday, but especially if he helps to draw them even in Game 2.