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post #1 of 1 (permalink) Old 08-13-2008, 10:56 PM Thread Starter
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6 CCs Of Adrenaline

When CC Sabathia walked into Milwaukee's clubhouse on July 7, the first words anyone said to him came in the form of an offer—a proposal that measured an extra-baggy 60 inches at the thigh, 39 inches at the waist and 36 inches at the inseam. "Hey, if you need a pair of pants, you can wear mine," Prince Fielder said to his new teammate and fellow big man. Sabathia cracked up. He hasn't felt out of place since.

"The easiest, most unbelievable transition,"he says now, more than a month after his arrival from Cleveland. And why not? Brewtown is dreaming of its first postseason since 1982, while Sabathia is winning just about every time he pitches. His earnestness and effort are recognized and appreciated by his teammates, and nobody is pretending that Sabathia's time with the Brewers is anything more than it appears to be. He's a temp, a hired gun, and like a mysterious stranger in an old Western, he is destined to move on. The 6'7" lefty will be eligible for free agency this fall, and he'll probably land nine-figure riches in Southern California or the Bronx.

Short-timers often shift the balance of power in baseball. David Cone did it twice, helping the Blue Jays win it all in 1992 and the Yankees begin their 13-season playoff run in 1995. Randy Johnson did it in 1998, when he almost single-handedly pitched the Astros into the division series. But the role requires the ability to handle great pressure and unusual circumstances. Cone once explained that in every game, the hired gun feels as if he has to prove himself to people he doesn't really know: He usually doesn't have lasting ties to his new club, he is disposable to the fans and he gets no time for adjustment. Denny Neagle joined the Yankees in 2000 and had immediate success, but within weeks he disintegrated under win-now duress; his last act was to stomp off the mound after angrily handing the ball to Joe Torre during Game 4 of the World Series.

The hired gun must first not disrupt the clubhouse culture of a contender, one reason Barry Bonds was not regarded as a viable option by many teams this summer. But as the Brewers did their background check on Sabathia, they came to view the big man as the perfect short-term solution for a franchise desperate to taste the postseason. Just getting into the playoffs would be a victory for the Brewers this year, and as owner Mark Attanasio had hoped, Sabathia is being embraced. Fans are snatching up jerseys and T-shirts and buying enough tickets to fill Lake Michigan.


Sabathia is just 28 years old, but he has already won 111 games. He's had a 19-win season, earned a Cy Young Award and pitched in October. After getting lit up for two losses to the Red Sox in the ALCS last fall, he's aiming to prove himself all over again. He thought he'd be doing it for Cleveland, but injuries wrecked the Indians early this year, and by mid-June Sabathia knew he was going to be traded. He and his wife, Amber, talked through the possible scenarios, which were complicated by the upcoming arrival of the couple's third child. As speculation grew that the Brewers might be best positioned to make a deal, Milwaukee reliever David Riske, a former Indian and Sabathia's best friend in baseball, started peppering the pitcher with text messages. At one point, Riske cornered Brewers GM Doug Melvin to explain why he thought Sabathia would be a good fit. Riske didn't know that Melvin had already begun imagining how Sabathia might adapt to the stress of changing cities. On July 5, Riske phoned Sabathia to ask, "Where are you? Are you on your way here?"

"I just came out of the movies with the kids," Sabathia said. "Kung Fu Panda."

Sabathia was on the Indians' team charter from Minnesota to Detroit the next day when manager Eric Wedge walked to the back of the plane and told him the trade had gone through. As Sabathia looked around at his former teammates, he could see they were shocked. He wasn't. He felt ready.

The following afternoon, he and Amber flew to Milwaukee. As he stared out the window, he watched Cleveland disappear beneath the plane. This was the place he'd shared the final months of his father's life, the birth of his children, the first years of his major league career. What he felt wasn't sadness, but a full recognition of the crossroads he'd reached. The Sabathias decided to rent a house in Milwaukee, and after a couple of days, CC's mom, Margie, flew in from Cleveland with the kids.

About 15,000 extra fans walked up to buy tickets for Sabathia's first start, a 7-3 win over the Rockies, and the energy he felt that day was something he'd never experienced. He nearly wore himself out fighting his own adrenaline over six innings. Afterward, in the trainer's room, an amazed Riske asked, "Could you believe what you saw out there?"

Sabathia won his first four starts for the Brewers, including three straight complete games. ("Sabathia against the National League is a total mismatch," says an advance scout for another team.) On July 28, he threw a season-high 124 pitches against the Cubs. The workload he has assumed for his temporary employers is daunting, if not alarming, but Sabathia says he's not thinking about that; he's accustomed to being the heavy lifter on a staff. "I'm not worried," he says. "I've always been about winning. I didn't think I was throwing that many pitches against the Cubs. It felt like I was doing what I normally do."

Amber is due to give birth in October. If the Brewers are in the playoffs, Sabathia will hope that blessed event wedges neatly between his starts. If Milwaukee is eliminated, then the Sabathias will be together in Cleveland, where they have, for now, maintained their home. They'll stay there long enough to pack a few boxes and put the house on the market and give the newest member of the family time to start life on earth.

Then they will all move on.

ESPN - ESPN The Magazine

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