By Saturday night’s end, Yankees veteran CC Sabathia and renowned actor Kevin Costner might share a similar blaze of glory.
For Game 7 of the American League Championship, the Yankees will hand the ball to a 37-year-old left-hander with a large heart and an aging body.
In “For Love of the Game” there is the heart-jerker moment where Costner, starring as a 40-year-old Billy Chapel in the twilight of his career, carries a perfect game into the ninth inning. Before he takes the field, he leaves an autographed baseball in the dugout to be discovered with the famous parting words:
"“Tell them I’m through. For love of the game.”"
Sabathia’s knee is a ticking time bomb. A degenerative condition nearly forced him into retirement as recently as August.
"“I could go out there and I could throw four innings and hurt and pitch — like I keep saying, I’ve pitched for a long time now. I’m not doing this for the money or anything like that,” Sabathia then told NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty. “I’m doing this for fun and to try to win a championship and if I can’t have fun and help this team win, then there’s no reason for me to be out there.”"
As fate would have it, the now healthy pitcher, and beloved leader in the Yankees clubhouse, is being given that golden opportunity.
When the postseason concludes, Sabathia will be an elder in the free agent market with an uncertain future and a career being held together by a knee brace.
He certainly did enough in 2017 to attract interest aplenty and earn a short-term deal. In an Andy Pettitte-caliber renaissance season, the lefty posted a 3.69 ERA that was his lowest mark since 2012; his 14 wins matched his highest total since ’13.
He was, in baseball jargon, a “stopper,” carrying the team on his back with a 10-0 record in starts following a Yankees loss. And it just so happens the Bombers’ offense went cold in a 7-1 defeat by the Houston Astros on Friday.
If New York pulls off a victory, they will appear in their 41st World Series, and the world will see more of Sabathia in a Yankees uniform.
Treat that one day at a time, though, the Yankees would tell you.
"“He has the ability to take things slow and take things one pitch at a time,” Brett Gardner said of Sabathia to ESPN’s Andrew Marchand. “He has pitched in quite a few big games in his career and, I’ve said before, there is nobody we would rather have on the mound than him.”"
Sabathia will be battling Saturday against a formidable Astros lineup, an eroding knee, and the inevitable entity known as Father Time.
"“I’m just having fun and enjoying the ride.”"
Perhaps that quote from CC would make a fitting Costner-like autograph on a baseball someday.