Friday, October 16, 2009
The Bronx in October, baseball under the lights tonight. The Yankees had been here countless times over the decades. It was on these nights, in this month and in this part of New York City where Yankee legends are made. Think Jeter and Williams. Mantle and Maris. Or the Babe and Gehrig. Does anybody believe Reggie Jackson would be revered today as "Mr. October" if he had played for the Cubs? No Major Leaguer puts on those white Yankee pinstripes without expecting to win championships somewhere along the way. That's certainly one of the reasons CC Sabathia came to the Big Apple. Sabathia left hints last season that he saw himself playing on the West Coast, going back to a part of the country near where he had grew up and nurtured his baseball skills. He refined those talents in Cleveland, spending his formative years this decade in Jacobs Field. He had wanted to remain an Indian, to continue to pitch in a place that doted over him like a favorite son, a place where he won his Cy Young Award and a place where he sealed his reputation as a top-of-the rotation starter. If not for Cleveland, he might not be a Yankee or the best-paid pitcher in the game. But the Yankees didn't throw megamillions at Sabathia for what he did in the past. No, the Yankees dipped into free agency last offseason and shelled out a princely sum to a man they expect will be anchoring their rotation for years to come and leading them to championships. The Yankees are counting on the first one to come this October (or will it actually be November by the time the World Series ends?), and they will get a glimpse of whether Sabathia can take them there tonight when he faces the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 for the American League championship. He's been here before with the Indians. It was October 2007, and he carried their hopes for a trip to the World Series. But Sabathia wasn't up to delivering it then. The pressurer of the occasion seemed more than he could tolerate, and he wilted under its intensity. He would not play in a World Series with the Indians that season or the next. He would get no redemption in '08, no chance to prove if he's as good as his '07 Cy Young says he should be. Now, Sabathia, a candidate for another Cy Young this season, has a second chance. He's playing for the most storied franchise in the sport and in a spanking-new ballpark in the shadows of the old Yankee Stadium. He will be trying to fill this new ballpark with heroic exploits that are fresher than those of exploits from Yankee yesteryear. And if he can deliver, Sabathia will bask in the cheers that Yankees fans bestow on their heroes -- the reassuring cheers that Yogi and Whitey and Joe D. heard in bringing championship banners to fans here. They expect championships -- year after year after year. Those championships have eluded their Yankees in recent years, which is why the team went out and bought the best pitcher on the open market. In return, they're banking on him to deliver a title, something he couldn't bring to the Indians and the Brewers. He won't do bring the title home alone -- no pitcher ever can. But if the Yankees don't win one this season, Sabathia will take the lion's share of the criticism for not doing more to make that happen. He sought this moment in the spotlight and all that came with it; now, he needs to show the world he can handle it.