All season long, Sabathia wasn't talking about individual awards, only team success. He didn't talk about his Cy Young chances during the season or the playoffs, not even when he matched up against 20-game winner Josh Beckett in the American League Championship Series.
"We weren't worried about individual stuff at that point," Sabathia said Tuesday. "We were worried about a championship."
This week was his chance to think about it. As it turned out, he really didn't have to worry.
What was expected to be a close race between Sabathia and Beckett had some margin to it. Sabathia received 19 out of a possible 28 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- two votes for each American League city. Beckett received just eight first-place votes, while Angels starter John Lackey received one. Based on first-, second- and third-place votes, Sabathia received 119 total points, compared to 86 for Beckett and 36 for Lackey.
Fellow Indians starter Fausto Carmona finished fourth with seven points, one second-place vote and four for third place. He and Sabathia combined to become the first Cleveland teammates ever to finish in the top four in voting.
With that, Sabathia became only the second Indians pitcher to win the award in its 52-year history, joining Gaylord Perry in 1972. He also became the first African-American to win the AL award since then-Oakland Athletic Vida Blue in 1971.
"It means a lot," Sabathia said. "I hadn't really had a chance to sit down and think about it yet. You guys know how I am about numbers and thinking about individual awards. It feels good right now. I can't really put it into words, but I'm sure later on tonight when I have a chance to sit down with my family and think about it, I'll have some words for it. But right now, I'm just happy that it happened this year."
The numbers said plenty for him. For someone whose career was about potential for so long, it finally translated.
While Beckett was baseball's lone 20-game winner, Sabathia was just one win behind. His 241 innings pitched were five more than anyone else in the game and 11 more than the next-highest total in the American League. Only Roy Halladay had more complete games than Sabathia's four, while Sabathia's 3.21 ERA and 209 strikeouts ranked fifth in their respective categories.
Considering Sabathia has ranked among the top 10 in strikeouts in other seasons, that wasn't a big leap. The key was pairing it with control. Nobody else in the AL's top five for strikeouts also placed in the top five for fewest walks per nine innings. Not only did Sabathia find his way onto the list, he was second only to teammate and noted control artist Paul Byrd.
"The walks, I think, were probably the biggest part," Sabathia said of his statistics. "I didn't really expect to go out and strike out that many guys, but the little slider-cutter that I've been throwing over the last year and a half really helped that. But I think just keeping down the walks, going out and getting the ball in the zone and trying to make people put the ball in play early and being able to go deep into the games, I think, was the biggest deal that helped me win this."
The result was a 5.65 ratio of strikeouts to walks that was far and away the best in baseball.
"C.C. took ownership of what he could control," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said, "and let go of the things he couldn't control. And that allowed him to really focus pitch to pitch, stay in his delivery and turn into a pitcher instead of just a guy with great potential and a great arm."
|2007 AL Cy Young Award Voting|
|C.C. Sabathia, CLE||19||8||119|
|Josh Beckett, BOS||8||14||4||86|
|John Lackey, LAA||1||5||16||36|
|Fausto Carmona, CLE||1||4||7|
|Eric Bedard, BAL||1||1|
|Roy Halladay, TOR||1||1|
|Johan Santana, MIN||1||1|
|Justin Verlander, DET||1||1|
That was part of the next step for him. The other part isn't really seen in the season stats.
Over a seven-start stretch from July 24 to Aug. 24, Sabathia averaged better than seven innings a game while scattering 12 earned runs over 50 2/3 innings, good for a 2.13 ERA. Yet the Indians, struggling offensively at the time, scored just 16 runs in that same stretch, five of them in his only win. His three losses were by scores of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-1. He had a one-run lead in another game that became a no-decision in an Indians loss.
Sabathia kept taking the mound and putting up outs.
"Maybe the most influential leadership he demonstrated this year," Shapiro said. "He never pointed fingers, never felt sorry for himself, stayed a positive, team-oriented guy and continued to contribute and pull for our team's victories, not worry about his own individual performance."
Once Cleveland's offense came around, he went 5-0 over his last six starts. He outpitched last year's AL Cy Young winner, Johan Santana, in back-to-back starts, much like he outpitched 2006 AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander back in May.
"For me, against Johan, you just have to go out and keep it close," Sabathia said. "That's all you can do. Verlander, too. You just try to keep putting up zeroes. I think they kind of feel the same way when we're both out there. If you do get in trouble, just try to keep it at a minimum. I was pretty confident that the guys would score some runs, and fortunately they did."
While the Red Sox averaged 6.4 runs per game in Beckett's starts, Sabathia worked with an average of 5.1 runs from the Indians. Doing as much with less might well have been the deciding factor.
Beckett and the Red Sox offense beat Sabathia in two head-to-head matchups during the ALCS. However, postseason performance doesn't count in awards consideration, since votes are due by the end of the regular season. Instead, Beckett earned ALCS Most Valuable Player honors.
The regular-season stats were close enough, intriguing enough, that even Sabathia took a peek at the statistics.
"Probably the last week or so, just to see if I had a chance," he admitted. "Some other people were talking that I had a chance to win. I did look at a few numbers. I felt that it could've gone either way. I'm just happy and thankful that it went my way."
The historical factor of following up Blue, becoming the first African-American winner in the AL in 36 years and the first in either league since Dwight Gooden in 1985, isn't lost on him, either. He has been outspoken about getting more kids involved in baseball rather than conceding them to other sports.
His leadership credentials are unquestioned, on and off the field. And as much as seeing Sabathia develop into an ace means to Shapiro, he sees leadership in everything he does.
"One of the most fulfilling parts of this game is watching guys like C.C. develop as people, go from really a teenage guy to a young man and now turn into a man," Shapiro said. "I say that as the ultimate compliment, because it means he's a good father, a good husband, a good friend, great teammate. He kind of meets all those qualifications of what it means to be a good man. To watch that progression and know that's directly influenced his on-field performance as well and his maturation there is extremely fulfilling."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.