BOSTON — Saturday night is not about CC Sabathia vs. Chris Sale, according to Sabathia.
Not in that sense, anyway.
“I’ve been pitching a long time,” said Sabathia, who will return from the disabled list to take on the Red Sox and Sale, the frontrunner for the American League Cy Young Award, at Fenway Park. “I’ve faced Pedro [Martinez] and [other] Hall of Famers . . . I had to learn that lesson. That you’re not going up against that guy, you’re going up against their lineup, and you just need to stay the course.”
That Sabathia (9-5, 4.05 ERA) is coming off the DL so soon is not something the Yankees — or Sabathia, for that matter — would have contemplated Aug. 8. He was forced from his start after three innings that night with significant pain in a right knee that had been an issue for years, but not since 2015.
“It was definitely a weird thing how it came out of nowhere,” Sabathia said. “In the past, it would build up, build up, build up, and it would get to where I couldn’t throw. This one just came out of nowhere. The fact it came out of nowhere and I suddenly couldn’t throw was concerning.”
Sabathia has said his thoughts that night were that his career might be over, but an MRI taken Aug. 9 showed only inflammation and no new damage to the knee, which has rapidly improved since he received a cortisone shot Aug. 9. He said he “felt really good” two days after the shot.
Sabathia’s mindset before that encouraging MRI? “It hurt and it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “I’ve pitched for a long time now. I’m not doing this for money or anything like that, I’m doing this for fun and to try and win another championship. And if I can’t have fun and help this team win, then there’s no need for me to be out there.”
Sabathia will be back out there in the middle of a division race in a building in which he’s had plenty of successes and failures over the years. Sabathia is 6-5 with a 4.95 ERA in 17 career starts at Fenway.
“I’m excited to get back out there,” said Sabathia, who has allowed four earned runs in each of his last three starts but was 7-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his previous nine starts before that stretch. “I feel really good. The team’s been playing good, so you just want to be a part of it, try to help the team to our ultimate goal, which is reaching the playoffs. So hopefully [Saturday] I can help in that direction.”
Sabathia won’t be on any kind of a pitch count or innings restriction. “As long as they want,” he said. “My arm feels good, the knee feels stable.”
Sabathia said pitching late in the season, playoffs on the line, is a thrill regardless of opponent.
“I think pitching any time in the division when it’s a team that you’re chasing or a team that’s chasing you, whether it’s in Baltimore or Toronto or even in Tampa, it’s a big game and it’s going to be intense,” he said. “So I look for [Saturday] night to be nothing different.”
Sabathia’s contract is up after the season. He hasn’t ruled out pitching in 2018, but if the knee doesn’t allow him to continue, so be it.
“I don’t really worry about it,” he said. “If it’s the end, it’s the end. I’m not pressed about it. I’ll just keep going as long as I’m healthy and try to play.”