Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bronx zoo doesn't faze CC

OK, so I was wrong.

I didn’t believe CC Sabathia could hold up under the tabloid scrutiny and the fickleness of native New Yorkers. I thought laid-back Sabathia, cloistered during his career as an Indian, would wilt under the demands of playing in pinstripes and in leading the Yankees to a pennant.

The Yankees aren’t there yet, but if any American League team looks as if it has a division title locked up, the team is the Yankees. They can pat Sabathia, a pricy free-agent signing, on the back for his generous contribution.

Talk all you want about Roy Halladay, Zach Grienke, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett as frontrunners for the Cy Young Award, but ask me who I would vote for in the Cy Young derby, I would say Sabathia.

In his last outing, he matched left-hander Mark Buehrle in a duel of staff aces. Neither got the win; neither took the loss. But Sabathia did what Buehrle did: kept his club in the ballgame.

The Yankees went on to beat the White Sox in extra inning, though this isn’t my point.  What is the point is that Sabathia, with one Cy Young already to look at, has grown into a pitcher capable of greatness.

He always had the tools, even as he toiled for teams in Cleveland that didn’t have the deep lineup the free-spending Yankees do. But a pitcher can’t worry about what might happen beyond his control.

I got that message from Cliff Lee, a former Indians left-hander who also has a Cy Young as his bona fides. Lee often talked about taking the mound each start and keeping his team in the ballgame. Do that, and you’ll make a lot of people happy, he said -- media, fans and yourself.

Sabathia has succeeded in that. He’s got 15 wins  -- he goes for No. 16 tonight -- with a month left in the season. He’s staring at a 20-win season and another trip to the postseason. He has been there on a few occasions, but he’s never pitched to his greatness in any of those other opportunities.

He should this time.

I can’t see Sabathia unraveling under the postseason pressure. His experience with the Indians and Brewers should ensure the pressure of it won’t fluster him. No reason to think it will, because the way he’s handled the bright lights of Broadway, a place that can undo the strongest of men, should prove Sabathia is ready for prime time.

To Yankees fans and the New York tabloids, no time is as prime as the postseason.



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