David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CC Sabathia is accountable to a fault, and when he told us to blame him for the Yankees missing the playoffs last year, we nodded in agreement.
Sabathia also promised this season would be different, that he was ready to regain his No. 1 status and pitch the Yankees back into October.
But after what went down Sunday in the Bronx, we're starting to have those same doubts as a year ago. Sabathia was booed off the mound in the Yankees' 5-1 loss to the Rays, and his 32/3-inning stint was his shortest since 2009, his first season in pinstripes.
It was as brief as it was ugly. The Rays hammered him for 10 hits and five runs, and Sabathia looked even worse failing to cover first base on what should have been a double play to end the fourth. Instead, Wil Myers followed with an RBI double that finished Sabathia, who walked to the dugout to the loudest boos he's ever heard in the Bronx.
"I would have booed myself today, too," Sabathia said. "I wouldn't want to come to the ballpark and watch that."
Seeing Sabathia wasn't worth the price of admission Sunday, but the Yankees have more invested in their struggling ace than a couple of beers and hot dogs. After making $23 million this season, he'll still be due a guaranteed $53 million through 2016, and that's before a $25-million vesting option kicks in for 2017.
Finances aside, the Yankees are banking on a return to the playoffs this season, and we're not seeing the CC who's supposed to be leading them there. Numbers-wise, he isn't any better than he was a year ago at this time.
Through seven starts in 2013, Sabathia was 4-3 with a 3.31 ERA and had 12 walks and 42 strikeouts in 49 innings.
After Sunday's loss, this year's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 44/9 in 402/3 innings is an upgrade. But Sabathia's 5.75 ERA is at the bottom of the MLB barrel among qualified starters, with only Kevin Correia (6.09) and Ricky Nolasco (5.82) below him. That's alarming, even for May 5.
"I was surprised,'' Joe Girardi said of Sabathia's clunker. "I still think he's evolving as a different type of pitcher, but [Sunday] he just didn't have his normal stuff. That was a little strange to see.''
Compare that to Masahiro Tanaka, who the previous day admitted that "nothing was crisp'' against the Rays -- including a flat splitter -- but still found a way to get the Yankees through seven innings with a 4-3 lead.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Sabathia was "out of sync from the get-go,'' and things only spiraled out of control from there.
The expectations for Sabathia have changed so much that we're not even talking about velocity anymore. The fact that he barely cracks 90 no longer comes up in the postgame conversations. It's just accepted that Sabathia must rely more on location now, and he's never been that kind of pitcher.
We're constantly told that he can be, and because Sabathia is a stand-up guy, we believe him. But sticking to that story, to that revised game plan, doesn't make it so. No matter what Sabathia has accomplished in the past -- or how much he tells us this season will be different -- it's not automatic.
"I think last year, I got down on myself,'' he said. "I made myself miserable and I just continued to slide. I think this year, I'll stay positive. I know I can get these guys out. I've done it.''
A positive attitude is important. But this is a results-oriented business, and Sabathia hasn't exactly been Mr. Reliable for a while now. He also slipped to 0-3 with a 7.47 ERA at Yankee Stadium this season, which is not going to help his popularity in the Bronx.
If Sabathia truly is "evolving,'' as Girardi suggested, it might help to speed up the process. Otherwise, Sabathia will wind up dragging the Yankees down with him, just as he did last year.
"Going through this adversity has been the roughest part of my baseball career by far,'' Sabathia said. "But I know I'll come out of this a better pitcher for it.''
Sounds good. Seeing is believing, though, and Sabathia hasn't convinced anyone yet.