David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees are no different from the other nine teams hoping to reach the World Series later this month. They've put in the scouting man-hours, crunched every gigabyte of data, done the necessary roster manipulations, all to be as ready as humanly possible for the playoffs.
But life doesn't work that way, and that's why nothing prepared the Yankees for what CC Sabathia, their hugely respected, big-hearted lefthander, told them before Sunday's Game 162 at Camden Yards.
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Not when the Yankees' postseason run was complete. Not next year in spring training. Now. Immediately.
As in, once Sabathia left Baltimore, he was checking himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center and would not be available, in any capacity, for the playoffs.
Because we're conditioned to look at the calendar through the lens of the baseball season, the timing of Sabathia's admission first came as a shock, as it surely must have for the Yankees.
Regardless of whether they had noticed previous clues to his problem -- and Brian Cashman understandably refused to go into much detail regarding that question Monday -- no one ever expects a player to willfully remove himself from the October pursuit of a World Series ring.
What Sabathia did, however, was more than a choice. He took a courageous first step toward possibly saving his life, and that had zero to do with throwing a baseball or winning Tuesday night's wild-card game against the Astros.
To dwell on how this might hurt the Yankees going forward -- and it has to, given Sabathia's stature, both on the field and in the clubhouse -- is really having your priorities out of whack. But for anyone hung up on that, Sabathia reminded us what's truly important, with his actions and his words.
"Being an adult means being accountable," Sabathia said in a statement released through the Yankees. "Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids -- and others who may have become fans of mine over the years -- to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help.
"I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that's exactly what I am going to do."
The Yankees have come to expect that from Sabathia, and Cashman praised his commitment to tackling the problem head-on rather than ducking behind a more convenient excuse, such as using his existing knee issues as a way to bow out of the postseason and then seek treatment for his issues with alcohol. After all, Sabathia didn't have to go public with his plans.
And perhaps that speaks to the magnitude of the demons he's been dealing with.
It was only natural Monday to look back at the August street fight captured on video outside that Toronto bar, where an enraged Sabathia had to be ushered away by his friends. Cashman called that behavior "uncharacteristic" of the Sabathia the Yankees know, but he didn't directly pin the regrettable episode on alcohol abuse. The GM also emphasized that it's about Sabathia getting better now, not fixating on troublesome past events.
"What CC is dealing with is a life issue," Cashman said. "It's bigger than the game we have [Tuesday night]. And because of that, it's vitally important that it gets put in the proper perspective and place. He needs to tag out of this situation, which is a lot of high-end pressure, really take a step back and get the professional help necessary."
The Yankees delayed Monday's on-field workout in the Bronx to have a meeting about Sabathia. Given the ramped-up media attention for the upcoming playoffs, the atmosphere at the Stadium was a bit surreal, with Cashman starting off the news conference by addressing the Sabathia situation for nearly a half-hour at the podium.
As Cashman repeatedly said, this was not the conversation he envisioned having 24 hours before the Yankees played their first postseason game in three years. No one did. But life intervened, and Sabathia, by pulling back the curtain on his issues with alcohol, reminded us that a game is just that compared to the real do-or-die matters we all inevitably face at one time or another.