There was a stretch of about five years that CC Sabathia was the best pitcher in baseball. CC spent some time with the Brewers during that stretch and provided Milwaukee fans with some of the most memorable moments in the history of the franchise. In this edition of Brewers Past and Present, we highlight the career of the pitcher who propelled Milwaukee into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.
CC Sabathia in Cleveland
To say that CC Sabathia was an accomplished pitcher before he was traded to Milwaukee would be an understatement. Sabathia made his Major League debut in 2001, starting 33 games for the Cleveland Indians. He went 17-5 with a 4.39 ERA and 171 strikeouts. His production led to a second place finish in the Rookie of the Year vote.
After a few up-and-down seasons that included two All-Star teams (2003 and 2004), Sabathia established himself as one of the league’s premier workhorses. In 2006, he went 12-11 with a 3.22 ERA and 172 strikeouts. Most notably, he threw six complete games and two shutouts.
In 2007, CC had his best season to-date. He went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA and 209 strikeouts. He threw four complete games and one shutout as well. In addition, he led the AL in games started (34), innings pitched (241), and batters faced (975). His 5.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio was also the best in the league (he only had 37 walks all year). For his efforts, he was named to a third All-Star team and won the AL Cy Young Award. He also finished 14th in MVP voting. It was clear at this point that Cleveland would not be able to afford Sabathia’s next contract. 2008 would be a shopping year.
CC Sabathia: A Brewers Legend
Long gone are the days of pitchers who finished most of the games they started. However, for a half-season, the Brewers had one who did just that in CC Sabathia. Sabathia did not begin 2008 the way one would expect a reigning Cy Young winner to start. Prior to the trade deadline, he was just 6-8 but with a respectable 3.83 ERA. Regardless of the numbers, it was clear CC still had a lot to offer and Cleveland was listening to other clubs who came calling.
The 2008 Playoff Push
The Brewers won the CC Sabathia trade sweepstakes by sending four prospects to Cleveland. The headliner was Brewers’ top prospect Matt LaPorta, who did not amount to much in the Majors. However, Cleveland did get Michael Brantley in the deal, who has made four All-Star teams so far in his career.
CC Sabathia was lights-out for the Brewers in 2008. Milwaukee, who had not made the playoffs since 1982, felt that they were one ace-type starter away from serious playoff contention. CC was that and more for the Brewers. He went 11-2 with an amazing 1.65 ERA, and almost threw the second no-hitter in team history. He threw seven complete games and three shutouts. Adding to his totals in Cleveland that year, CC threw 10 complete games and five shutouts in 2008. The last of his complete games was the game which clinched the NL Wild Card and sent the Brewers into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, CC did not pitch well in the game he started for the Brewers in the National League Division Series, giving up five earned runs in less than four innings. Even worse, he was a free agent after the season ended. While the Brewers did offer him a five-year $100 million deal, he took the larger offer from the New York Yankees.
CC Sabathia as a New York Yankee
All told, CC Sabathia would spend 11 years in New York. His time in New York started off better than could have been predicted. He led the AL in wins two years in a row, with 19 in 2009 and 21 in 2010. He finished in the top four of the Cy Young vote in each of his first three seasons and was an All-Star in three of his first four seasons. Most importantly, he started off his Yankees tenure with a World Series win. He performed much better in the 2009 playoffs and was named MVP of the ALCS.
Sabathia had some down years in New York, too, as he publicly admitted to battling alcoholism. After a few down years, Sabathia had a decent 2017 in which he went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA and 120 strikeouts. CC decided to retire after the 2019 season and 11 years in New York. He finishes his career with a 251-161 record, 3.74 ERA, and 3,093 strikeouts. He likely will be elected to Cooperstown within the next decade, and his 2008 season will be nationally remembered once more.
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