Saturday, October 13, 2012

Any doubts about CC Sabathia's ability in the clutch should have been squashed last night

Has CC silenced his detractors?
It was not too long ago that Carsten Charles Sabathia was perceived as a choker.  Some maybe still believe it.  After his laughable performance against the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS, it was hard to argue with this perception.  It didn't help CC's case when he was traded to the Brewers, posted ridiculous numbers, yet in his lone playoff game, he was shelled.  In the regular season for the Brew Crew, he posted a sparkling 1.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, a 128:25 K:BB ratio, and an 11-2 record in 17 starts.  He also tallied seven complete games, three complete game shutouts, and averaged nearly eight innings a start.

In the 2008 NLDS against the Phillies, he was shelled for 5 ERs in 3.2 innings.  That performance would ramp up the "CC is a choker bandwagon" to level orange.  What many continued to overlook was just how much the Brewers overworked Sabathia.  His last three starts were on three days rest.  Nope, not just one, but three!  Averaging 111 pitches per start.  So just maybe, just maybe, CC's collapse in the playoffs wasn't entirely his fault.  But that's just not a good enough excuse for his detractors.

And oh boy would those naysayers come out in droves when he signed on to play with the boys in pinstripes.  Just no way could this have been a good signing for the Yankees.  They were signing a choker they said.  CC would be a failure they said.  CC proceeded to have the best postseason run of his career in 2009.  Tag-teaming along with A-Rod to lead the Yankees to a 27th World Series title.  Briefly shutting up those critics.  It wasn't just that he was dominant, but he was doing it in one of the most gargantuan markets in sports.  But was it really surprising?  Is it that shocking that a perennial Cy Young contender put forth together a great postseason run?  At some point you knew it would happen.  The "choker" label is one of the biggest myths in sports.  A pitcher of Sab's caliber will simply get it done when it counts eventually.  It's part of the ups and downs of being a major league pitcher.  Sometimes they will dominate, and sometimes they will get shelled.  It happens to even the best of them.  Bad games just unfortunately happened too many times in the early part of CC's career.

But that wouldn't stop defamers for getting right back on CC's case in 2010.  He had a pretty average playoff run, and the Yanks would fall to the Texas Rangers in the 2010 ALCS, and people would begin to question the legitimacy his 2009 postseason run.  Maybe some of that criticism was fair.  Looking at his career up to this point, he only had one great playoff run, two horrible playoff runs, an okay start in his rookie year, and an average playoff run.  I guess you can add 2011 as another average playoff run(or horrible depending on how you define it).  Which brings us to this postseason.

If you had your doubts about CC's ability in crucial situations, you should no longer bet against him.  The man has the ability to make big pitches when it matters most.  He showed in the past that he could be hittable in playoff games, but that doesn't mean he was a "choker."  He has shown in these playoffs against a pesky Os team, that he can make big pitches and get big outs.  Just how big was he in Game 1?  The Os were 22-8 at home in August and September combined.  Winning there is no easy feat.

After giving up two runs in the bottom of the 3rd, CarCharles would settle down and pitch well.  When the bottom of the sixth came, CC got in a little trouble due to a Jeter error.  This got the crowd in it, and CC needed to get an out to put a stop to a possible rally and he would do so.  The biggest obstacle CC would face would be in the bottom of the 8th inning after a leadoff double from J.J. Hardy with the Os best hitters coming up to the plate.  Game is tied 2-2, and at this point, giving up a run is absolutely critical.  CC gets a big punchout of Adam Jones.  Gets Wieters to foul out.  Then gets Mark Reynolds to groundout.  Hardy never being moved from second base.  The Yanks would go on to break the tie while scoring 5 runs in the top of the 9th to give CC and the Yanks the win.

His biggest performance would come in last night's Game 5 elimination game.  Where he would prove to be absolutely dominant.  The Os provided little resistance for much of the night, that was until the top of the 8th inning.  Sabathia's biggest haters just knew he would squander that game away.  There was no way the Os would be denied.  A storybook season like this just couldn't possibly end on this night.  After the Os would single, walk, then single again to bring Wieters across home plate, CC would get himself in some trouble.  He would strikeout the stalwart Mark Reynolds, and Andino would follow with an infield hit to load the bases.  Score 3-1, bases loaded, one out.  This is when CC would make some of the biggest pitches of his career.  There is no room for error.  A wild pitch, flyball out, or hard groundout makes it a one run game.  A single ties the game.  Anything more could be disastrous.  CC would strikeout the nettlesome Nate McLouth, and then would face J.J. Hardy for the final out.  The same J.J. Hardy who nearly sparked a rally in CC's first start in Baltimore with the leadoff double in the bottom of the 8th.  The same J.J. Hardy that would knock in the game-winning run the night before in a 13-inning marathon.  He would weakly ground out to Derek Jeter and CC got out of the jam with a nearly flawless pitching display.  If that wasn't enough, CC would come right back out and finish the game with a clean 9th inning securing an ALCS berth for the Yankees.

Sorry boys but "chokers" simply don't perform at the level that CC displayed last night.  Getting big outs when he had to have them.  Making big pitches when they needed to be made.  He was simply flawless when the bases were loaded with only one out.  You can't say anymore that CC doesn't have the ability to be clutch.  You can't tell me he's a "choker."  There will be good times and bad times for any starting pitcher in the playoffs, but quality starters like CC will be good in playoff games far more often than they will be bad.

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