MILWAUKEE – Many names and adjectives can be used when addressing the Brewers' newest acquisition … all 6-foot-7, 290 pounds of him.
You can ink his name as C.C. or CC, although he prefers to use Carsten or Carsten Charles Sabathia when he signs his name. Call him a gentle giant, a strikeout king or the best pitcher in baseball and you would be right on the money.
But judging by the Brewer fan response (a contingent thirsting for playoff baseball for the first time in 26 years) to new staff ace CC Sabathia, the adjective the 42,533 fans that packed Miller Park on Tuesday night desperately want to attach to Sabathia’s name is a hefty one – the missing piece.
He received a standing ovation when he and catcher Jason Kendall made their way to the bullpen 35 minutes before he took the mound. When his name was announced over the PA as the starting pitcher, one would think the Brewers just won the World Series four months early as not a soul dared to sit down. Even when he came up to bat, the roar was deafening.
Did Sabathia’s performance live up to all the hype after the Brewers pulled the trigger for arguably the biggest trade in franchise history?
Not especially, but considering the circumstances, a 7-3 Brewers win, Sabathia is off and running.
“It felt like opening day with all the hoopla and the world watching,” Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. “All these players are creatures of routine and as much fun and excited as the fans are, we’re excited too. He did a phenomenal job of getting through it because it’s hard keeping yourself calm in a situation like this. He got through it very well.”
Known as a bullpen saver and an innings eater (pitching into the seventh inning in 10 of his last 11 starts), Sabathia gave Yost and his new teammates six innings, scattering five hits, three runs (two earned) and striking out five in the process.
Sabathia mowed down Colorado’s six, seven and eight hitters in the second and hardly broke a sweat in the fifth, retiring the side in order on just seven fastballs.
By having command of his fastball, Sabathia was able to register three of his five strikeouts by throwing his trademark slider.
But Sabathia was far from the immortal Milwaukee savior as he has been portrayed over the past week.
After his first pitch of the game went over for a strike, Sabathia proceeded to walk leadoff hitter Willie Tavarez on seven pitches and cleanup batter Garrett Atkins on four straight before wriggling off the hook.
“I was trying to do too much and when I do that, I have a tendency to throw a lot of balls and miss on my fastball,” Sabathia said. “I had a bunch of emotions going through my head just from the fans and the electricity they brought to the stadium.”
Leading off the fourth, the Rockies banged back-to-back fastballs into left field and loaded the bases compliments of a J.J. Hardy error. Staying cool, Sabathia coaxed second baseman Jayson Nix into a 6-4-3 double play and managed to escape the inning giving up only the unearned run.
What did in his night, however, was his 31-pitch sixth and final inning in which he walked three, gave up a single and a two-run double. Fortunately for the Crew, right fielder Ryan Spilborghs had to stop at third as it was later diagnosed that he strained his left oblique rounding second base.
Should he have been healthy, it would have been a bang-bang play at home.
With the Crew clinging to a one-run lead and the Rockies having runners on second and third with no outs, Sabathia delivered the play of the game with his glove, not his arm.
With a 0-2 count, Nix lined a sinking liner to Sabathia, who snagged the ball before it hit the dirt, planted and threw to third baseman Bill Hall to double the runner off third.
“He was nimble like a cat out there to snatch that ball and turn two out there,” Yost said. “That was a big break for us.”
Sabathia, however, had a different opinion.
“Accident,” he joked. “It was right there.”
Two batters later with the crowd on its feet, Sabathia delivered his final pitch of the evening, a 96 mph fastball that struck out Rockie pinch hitter Brad Hawpe to end the threat.
“You’ll see that emotion from me from time to time,” Sabathia said about his primal scream and fist pump after the strikeout. “I was a little frustrated and that was kind of a release.”
With his spot due up first in the bottom of the seventh inning, Yost contemplated sending Sabathia out for one more inning but decided to be satisfied with what he got out of his new pitcher.
“With everything that had went on today, to get him out after the sixth with the lead and a good start under his belt, let him work off this from this point on,” Yost said. “He did what we asked him to do.”
Relievers David Riske, Eric Gagne and Brian Shouse each pitched a scoreless inning to net Sabathia’s first win as a National League pitcher.
With Sabathia able to catch his breath until his next scheduled start Sunday against Cincinnati, the Brewers can return to a somewhat level of normalcy. Winners of 18 of their last 23 games at home, the Brewers have a chance to continue to roll with five more games left on this home stand and with Sabathia jerseys already sold out at Miller Park, the support doesn’t look to die out overnight.
“The support is exceeding anything I could have imagined,” Sabathia said. “This has been so much fun and the guys in the clubhouse made a lot of difference in making me feel comfortable. There is no place I would rather be than right here.”