If there is a lesson the Brewers' towering left-hander learned last year in the playoffs, it's to not put all of the team's weight on his shoulders. Not that Sabathia isn't used to doing his share of heavy lifting.
Since being acquired from the Indians on July 7, Sabathia has done his part in carrying the club to its first playoff appearance in 26 years.
Yet, Sabathia is heading into Citizens Bank Park to face the Phillies on Thursday, his team down 1-0 in the best-of-five series, with a renewed sense of perspective. He still feels the burden of a rough 2007 postseason, where he suffered two losses for the Indians in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox and Josh Beckett.
"I think you'll see a calmer version of me," Sabathia said. "I think last year I went into the playoffs thinking that I had to throw no-hitters and shutouts every game. I think that's why you saw me pressing a lot and throwing a lot of pitches and not throwing a lot of strikes."
Once again, Sabathia will be asked to turn in a huge performance. The Brewers stumbled, 3-1, on Wednesday in Game 1, magnifying the importance of a split at Philadelphia in the best-of-five series.
"We're down one game right now with the best pitcher in baseball pitching [Thursday]," manager Dale Sveum said. "Obviously, we feel good about ourselves, but we've got to swing the bats better and score more than one run."
Sabathia says his approach will be more like what the Brewers saw on Sunday, when on three days' rest, the left-hander tossed a complete game and beat the Cubs, 3-1. The clutch performance enabled Milwaukee to clinch the NL Wild Card.
A year ago, Sabathia, the AL Cy Young Award winner, admits he tried to do too much.
"It's just I felt like I had to step up and be the guy last year," he said. "For some reason, I just felt all this pressure that we're not going to win if I don't pitch well and we can't win the World Series if I don't pitch well.
"I don't feel like that at all this year. I feel like if I can keep this team in games and keep them close, I think that we have enough talent in that clubhouse to do it. I know we did last year in Cleveland, too, but I felt I needed to shoulder all the pressure of being the guy to go out there and throw shutouts and no-hitters and be this great pitcher in the postseason. And I think I put too much pressure on myself."
Sabathia is chalking it up as a learning experience.
"I thought about it all winter," he said. "And I'm just glad to be back in position where I can try to correct that."
Since joining the Brewers, things pretty much have fallen Sabathia's way in storybook fashion.
Sabathia is a larger-than-life figure with an outgoing personality who simply overpowers opponents. In 17 starts for the Brewers, he was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, making him a contender for the NL Cy Young Award despite pitching just half the season in the league.
|"I think everybody who knows me and that's close to me knows how competitive I am. And if I'm healthy enough and I feel fine enough to pitch, that they're not going to tell me not to, because I'm not going to listen to it. We're going to end up getting into an argument."|
|-- CC Sabathia, on pitching on short rest|
Combining his numbers from both leagues, Sabathia has thrown 253 total innings. Even more impressive is that the left-hander from Vallejo, Calif., will be making his fourth straight start on three days' rest.
In an era of five-man rotations and pitchers taking the mound every fifth day, Sabathia is demanding the ball. Sveum is answering his wishes.
"I think he can keep doing it," Sveum said, "or we wouldn't have him out there on three days' rest again. The guy is just a special human being that, knock on wood, he never has any other soreness than normal. And obviously, he's bounced back."
Shying away from the extra work never was an option for Sabathia, who is going on short rest, fully aware of the potential physical risks.
To him, pitching a day earlier than normal is overblown.
"I think everybody who knows me and that's close to me knows how competitive I am," Sabathia said. "And if I'm healthy enough and I feel fine enough to pitch, that they're not going to tell me not to, because I'm not going to listen to it. We're going to end up getting into an argument."
Not even his wife or his agent has said anything on the subject, because Sabathia won't budge. If he can take the ball, he will.
"I would be honest. If I couldn't do it, I wouldn't do it," Sabathia said. "I think it would just be hurting the team to go out there and not be 100 percent. So I don't think of it as a sacrifice. I think if anybody who was healthy enough to do it, I think they would do it, if they had a chance to get in the playoffs and win the championship."
The fact that Sabathia is continuing to go on short rest, prompted his agent, Brian Peters, to phone Brewers general manager Doug Melvin recently to express some concern.
The Brewers are sensitive to the issue. Melvin gathered Sabathia and the staff and urged all to "be smart."
A free agent after the season, Sabathia is pouring all his energies now into the Brewers.
"It's up to him," Sveum said. "There's no question about it. It's his career. It's his team. And obviously things get blown out of proportion a little bit because it's his free-agent year, and obviously he's got a chance of probably making as much money as anybody ever has in the history of baseball, as a pitcher, anyway."
One of Sabathia's biggest fans just so happens to be a close friend, and an opponent in the playoffs. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins grew up with Sabathia in Northern California, and they keep in touch regularly.
Before Sabathia took the mound on Sunday against the Cubs, Rollins sent his friend a text message, wishing him luck.
"Yeah, that's my boy," Rollins said. "He actually grew up playing ball with my brother. They played Junior Olympic ball together, and that's how I met CC."
The Phillies, who didn't face Sabathia in their four-game sweep of Milwaukee in mid-September, will be introduced to the big left-hander on Thursday. The stakes will be a bit higher, and Sabathia notes he will take things more in stride.
"I think I'll go into this playoffs just trying to go out and keep the team in the game," Sabathia said. "I'll go out and do whatever it takes to keep the team in it and let these guys take it over."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less