For 11 seasons, CC Sabathia was the consummate workhorse for the Yankees. He averaged more than 173 innings pitched over those 11 seasons -- even including 2014, when a right knee injury limited him to just 46 innings on the mound.
That same knee hampered him for the remainder of his career -- including this season, when inflammation sent him to the injured list three separate times. On Thursday, that storied career came to an end, albeit because of a different ailment.
Sabathia was diagnosed with a subluxation of his left shoulder joint, which he suffered while pitching to Aledmys Diaz in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS. True to form, Sabathia actually threw three more pitches with, in layman's terms, a partially dislocated shoulder before finally succumbing to the pain and taking himself off the mound.
"It felt terrible," Sabathia said with a chuckle. "I was just hoping [George] Springer swung early. Once I realized it was going to be a long at-bat, [athletic trainer] Stevie [Donahue] came out and we realized that I wasn't going to be able to do it."
Sabathia's left shoulder forced him off the Yankees' ALDS roster, when he was unable to recover from a cortisone shot the way the team hoped as they prepared for the postseason. But he was back to try and help the Yankees any way he could in the ALCS, and he entered out of the bullpen in Game 4 confident he could do just that, trying to get the Bombers out of a bases-loaded jam.
"I had no pain," Sabathia said. "I've been feeling good the last week to 10 days. My arm's been feeling fresh and everything feels good. Just that last pitch to Diaz when he popped up, I felt like when I released the ball my shoulder just went with it."
After heroically attempting to gut it out for three pitches to Springer, out came the Yankees training staff. Sabathia needed just one warmup pitch to confirm what he feared; there was no way he could continue. The Yankee Stadium crowd rose to its collective feet as one, trying to will their left-hander to get just one more batter. He couldn't do it, but they remained standing to give Sabathia a send-off he'll likely never forget. With his glove over his face, the 39-year-old walked off a major league mound for the final time.
"That's what got me more emotional than the actual injury," Sabathia said of the ovation. "Just hearing the fans and the way that they were cheering me. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I made the right choice 11 years ago. I love these fans, I love this organization. It was just awesome to hear that and get that on the way out."
"He's been the ultimate teammate, competitor, gamer," manager Aaron Boone said. "He left everything he had on the field. Everything he had on the mound. I talk to our guys every now and then about giving us everything you got. CC embodied that. He left it all out there last night."
Sabathia, who announced at the start of Spring Training that he planned on retiring at the end of the season, also provided some insight into how much it took to simply get through the year.
"For bullpens and game days, any time I had to get on the mound, it was a two-and-a-half hour process," he said. "From hot tubs, to the training room to the weight room, I'd throw a 15-pitch bullpen and it took me two-and-a-half hours to get out there."
But ever the warrior, Sabathia thought in the back of his mind that maybe, just maybe, he might have a little more left in him.
"The way I've been feeling, loving the bullpen, jogging out, I feel like July of next year I would have been like 'yeah, I can pitch,'" Sabathia said.
But Thursday's fateful eighth inning removed all doubt.
"I just feel like it's kind of fitting. I threw until I couldn't anymore."
As teams shift to openers and try to piece together games using a variety of arms, Sabathia is one the last of a dying breed. A pitcher you can rely on for as long as you need him, who would never shy away from a chance to eat up innings and go deep into a ballgame.
"That's what I signed up to do," Sabathia said. "Pitch as long as I could as hard as I could and take the ball every time out. I have no regrets at all."