Sabathia returns to Milwaukee and fond memories of 2008
Nearly six years later, CC Sabathia can recall the conversation with clarity.
If I get you a run right here, is the game over?
Yeah, the game is over.
Ryan Braun promptly delivered a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie with the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 28, 2008.
"That was crazy," Sabathia said.
Then, of course, the big left-hander came out for the ninth to complete his seventh game for the Milwaukee Brewers to clinch the organization's first playoff berth since 1982.
"It kind of reminded me of Cleveland – we hadn't been to the playoffs in a long time and in '07 we got a chance to do it and I think that experience helped me down the stretch coming here and being able to talk to some of the younger guys like Prince (Fielder) and Brauny at the time," Sabathia said. "We were battling. We were fighting. The last two weeks, every game was a playoff game for us."
Sabathia began to hear rumors of a trade in June, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he begun talking to Indians GM Mark Shapiro about him in that month, but the teams had to wait until after the amateur draft to consummate the deal as prospect Matt LaPorta could not be traded until after he was a year removed from his own draft date.
While Sabathia's former Indians teammate David Riske told him the week before the deal that the Brewers were making up jerseys for him, Melvin said he was still shocked that the deal was agreed to.
"The first shock came when Mark Shapiro said, Doug, we have a deal – I was pretty excited in that," Melvin said. "Then (it was) just trying to get to a point of getting him here as quick as we could."
He chuckled and said that was because they didn't the Indians to change their mind. So, it was no coincidence that Sabathia's first start with the Brewers came the day after Shapiro said yes.
The big left-hander spent just about three months with the Brewers after being acquired in a trade on July 7, but in his first trip back since the clinching game Sabathia admitted it felt longer.
"I felt like I had been here my whole career, just from the people and the organization, the players," he said. "I wasn't here a long time, but I felt my time here was well spent. It was a good time."
Sabathia, who won a Cy Young with Cleveland in 2007, helped the New York Yankees win the World Series in 2009 and won 21 games in 2010, admitted that he hasn't felt as good as he did over his 17 starts with the Brewers.
He went 11-2 with seven complete games and three shutouts.
"I've had some stretches where I felt like I've been pretty good but I felt like every time when I went out, when I was here, I was going to win the game," he said. "As a pitcher you kind of have some doubts a little bit about what's going to happen and I didn't have any when I was here."
Weeks took a step further.
"I mean, it was the best I've ever seen," the Brewers second baseman said. "I think he was pitching, at least the last two weeks of the season, he was pitching every three days I think it was. It was something crazy. So, to have him come in and to do that, and the way he was doing it, it was a shutout or a one run game every game he pitched. He was going seven innings every time, every three days, that's hard to beat. It's hard to see that happening again in baseball."
Sabathia admitted those pressurized starts down the stretch helped prepare him for the Yankees' World Series run a year later, but what he took most from the time in Milwaukee was the lasting friendships he made, even in such a short time.
"These are some of the guys that I still talk to, to this day and am really close with," Sabathia said. "I think being able to come in and play with those guys in this clubhouse and win and have fun is, I think, is the thing I remember the most."
He even attended Weeks' wedding this offseason.
"One, it helps when you win obviously, but second to have a guy that comes in he meshed in real well with everybody," Weeks said. "We still talk to this day. It was one of those things where when good people come in to a team that's doing well, it's not real hard to keep up a friendship going."
Melvin said Sabathia's acquisition, and ensuing playoff berth, changed the expectations of the franchise, signaling the end to a rebuilding era. Since then, the Brewers have been a consistent threat in the National League.
But, there will always be something special about the first time.
"We had great chemistry back then. It was great chemistry and him coming obviously was a great addition to our team and what he did," Weeks said. "When something like that happens, you can't help but to think back. It was a great time, man."
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