The first one in pinstripes came in 2009 to open the new building. The last one, at least in the regular season and perhaps altogether, will come Wednesday night.
CC Sabathia will make his final regular-season start at Yankee Stadium, facing the Angels, the latest “last” in a year full of them for the left-hander, who is set to retire at the end of the season.
“It’s going to be fun,” Sabathia said Tuesday. “It’s kind of time. … Exciting to be able to end it here at home.”
The 39-year-old Sabathia has not been one for sentimentality this season despite it being his last of his career. His goodbye tour has included his 3,000th strikeout in April, his 250th win in June and various pregame ceremonies to honor his last stop at different ballparks.
But Wednesday’s game will have some extra meaning for Sabathia, given how much he accomplished while pitching in The Bronx, even if he doesn’t want to make it about him.
“Yeah, for sure,” Sabathia said. “It does, but we’re still in the middle of trying to win the division. So that trumps everything, going out and trying to have a good start. Trying to help this team win the division. So the fact that the team is in it and our goal is to win the World Series and we’re playing well, I think it takes away from me, which is great. It’s awesome. We can go out and focus on baseball and trying to win a baseball game.”
Luckily for Sabathia, a win in this game would clinch the AL East for the Yankees. It would be their first division title since 2012.
“That’d be awesome,” Sabathia said before the Yankees’ 8-0 win over the Angels and the Rays’ 7-5 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday night. “That’s the goal, coming into the season, was try to win the division. To be on the mound to do it would be great.”
Asked if he would spend a few seconds taking it all in while he’s on the mound Wednesday, Sabathia responded with a laugh, “Depends on how the game’s going.”
That Sabathia would make it to this start was not always a given. In his most recent start at Yankee Stadium, on Aug. 30, he lasted three innings before exiting with pain in his right knee that led to his fourth stint this year on the injured list — three of them for his balky knee. But he returned to the mound Thursday in Detroit, giving up two runs in 3 ¹/₃ innings.
Sabathia’s role beyond Wednesday, and for the postseason, remains uncertain. He could continue as a starter, but manager Aaron Boone has also floated the idea of using him as a reliever. That transition could come in the final week of the season, so that Sabathia isn’t doing it for the first time in a playoff game.
As of Tuesday, Sabathia said he has not been given any indication yet regarding his postseason role.
The first start Sabathia made as a Yankee at Yankee Stadium came against his former team, the Indians, on April 16, 2009. Because of the opponent and the stage — opening a new stadium — it was “definitely nerve-racking,” Sabathia said. He wasn’t sure how the emotions would compare on Wednesday.
But Boone was certain of how the big lefty would approach it.
“There’s been so many cool moments this year with CC,” Boone said. “But he’s handled every step of the way with the grace and the [mindset of], ‘Next game, just another game.’ He’s really good at focusing in on it. I’m sure the people at this ballpark and his teammates will appreciate it a little bit tomorrow. But I wouldn’t expect CC to make that big a deal out of it.”