How CC Sabathia Proved Critics Wrong Once and for All That He Is a Big-Game Ace

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIOctober 6, 2015

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12:  CC Sabathia #52, Russell Martin #55 and Eric Chavez #12 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 3-1 to win Game Five of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 12, 2012 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

CC Sabathia has always been a horse on the mound. Friday night, he proved he can also be called a playoff ace.

In a very tight five-game victory over the Baltimore Orioles, Sabathia not only won two of those three games but pitched 17.2 innings in the process.

Both Sunday in Baltimore and Friday night in New York, Yankees manager Joe Girardi trusted his big guy to do the job, and Sabathia not only rewarded him with two wins, but he pitched to all but one batter in those games.

Sabathia threw strikes, striking out 16 while only walking three Orioles in the American League Divisional Series.

While it remains to be seen if he will go on short rest for a Game 3 faceoff against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, his complete game Friday night ensures that the Yankees' bullpen goes into Game 1 Saturday with the same rest that the Tigers' pen has, after finishing off Oakland Thursday night.

In essence, he just took away one of the biggest potential advantages Detroit might have had for the opener. 

For Sabathia, the last couple of years in the playoffs were not great. While he has not lost a decision since the 2009 World Series, both Texas in the 2010 ALCS and Detroit in last year's ALDS knocked him around and the usually solid Sabathia only pitched 18.2 innings in four starts, including a trip out of the pen.

After signing a contract extension following the 2009 season, big things were expected for a guy who is a throwback to pitchers of yesteryear. He eats innings, strikes out batters and consistently has one of the best ERAs in the American League.

Those postseason numbers, on the other hand, did not suggest he was earning the $24 million per year he was pulling in.

Even though he had worked hard to lose weight and get himself in good shape, averaging a little under four innings a playoff appearance will not win you a lot of fans.

That changed with this series. He became the guy who had won a Cy Young Award in Cleveland and pitched the Milwaukee Brewers into the playoffs in 2008.

He also pitched 30 fewer innings this year than he had the last four, going from at least 230 innings per season to 200 this year. 

His walks are down and his strikeouts are up, as he's averaging nearly one an inning again.

For a series that might have been remembered more for the benching of slugger Alex Rodriguez, the high-priced Sabathia showed everyone why he is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

There is a clubhouse full of Orioles hitters that would agree with that right about now.

*Statistics via