The then-27-year-old Sabathia’s fantastic efforts on the mound helped to lead the Indians deep into the playoffs in what was one of the club’s best opportunities to make and win a World Series. The devastating American League Championship Series collapse against the Terry Francona-led Boston Red Sox ended the dream prematurely.
When Sabathia was announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as the American League Cy Young winner on November 13th, 2007, it gave the team its first winner in 35 years, when Gaylord Perry took home the honor with a 24-6 record and a 1.92 ERA in 1972. Sabathia became just the second Indians pitcher to win the award since it was first established in 1956 in honor of the pitching legend Young, who spent 12 of his 22 years representing the city of Cleveland on the baseball diamond.
The long gap between winners would not last long, as Sabathia’s teammate Cliff Lee would win it the very next season, before seeing a very similar end to his Cleveland tenure. Corey Kluber, the Indians’ 2014 breakout ace, looks to give the team its third winner in eight seasons later on this week.
Sabathia took charge in 2007 as the staff’s ace. He had been a model of consistency for the Tribe’s rotation, steadily lowering his ERA each season while posting winning records and double-digit win totals. While he was just 12-11 in 2006, he had a career-best 3.22 ERA in 28 starts. He led the league with six complete games and a pair of shutouts for an Indians team that finished a disappointing 78-84 and in fourth place in the AL Central.
Entering his seventh season, he was set to be the Indians’ Opening Day starter for the second straight season and the fourth time in his career. He took the stage in Chicago and, for the first time in his career, won his first start of the season with a 12-5 victory over the White Sox. He scattered eight hits and a walk over six innings with a pair of strikeouts, but did allow two home runs.
His second start was unconventional to say the least, as inclement weather forced the Indians to move their series with the Anaheim Angels to Milwaukee. Sabathia earned the “home” W with a 7-6 win, allowing ten hits in seven innings while striking out seven.
In his next outing and first home start actually in Cleveland, he struck out ten White Sox batters over eight innings while giving up just one earned run in a 2-1 win. The quick 3-0 start was the best of Sabathia’s career.
Sabathia concluded April with a pair of no decisions, striking out eight in each game. He was tagged for five runs in the latter, an 8-7 Cleveland win for the bullpen over the Texas Rangers.
The big lefty found himself back in the win column to start May, winning each of his first two decisions in the month to improve to 5-0 behind quality starts against Toronto and Baltimore. He dodged trouble in the game against the Blue Jays, allowing three solo home runs in the first inning while still getting a quality start. But in his return to the West Coast’s Bay Area, he was hit for six runs in six and two-third innings in an 8-2 loss to Oakland, his first of the season.
The loss would not derail the strong Sabathia, as he would win his next four decisions in a six-game stretch, including a complete game five-hit shutout on June 5th against Kansas City to improve his season record to 9-1. He would be just as dominant, if not more so, in his next start, blanking the Cincinnati Reds over nine innings on just three hits while striking out six. The Indians, however, could not find the scoreboard and the Reds would walk off the victors in the 12th inning.
Sabathia was hit with the loss in his next start, despite pitching into the ninth inning again. With a 4-3 lead, a leadoff double, an E6, and a sacrifice bunt put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position for the Atlanta Braves. Yunel Escobar doubled to left to score them both, ending Sabathia’s night.
Like before, he bounced right back after the L, winning three straight starts over Philadelphia, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. His start against the A’s was a complete game, eight-strikeout effort. By the end of June, he was 12-2 in 18 starts with a pair of complete games in 129 1/3 innings pitched.
As Sabathia approached the All-Star break, he hit his roughest stretch of the season, despite being named to his third career Midsummer Classic and his first since 2004. He was charged with seven runs on ten hits, including three home runs, in his third loss of the season and shortest outing of the year in a 12-3 blowout in Detroit in his final start of the first half. After a nine-pitch inning of work in the All-Star Game, he allowed six runs on eleven hits in seven innings in a loss to the Royals in his first start of the second half.
He would win just one more July start before dropping another pair to finish the month with a 1-4 record and a 5.12 ERA in five starts. Each of the final two losses were tough luck decisions, as he allowed just one earned run in each appearance but was given a total of one run of support combined in the two games.
After the pair of bad outings sandwiching the All-Star break, Sabathia went on a tear. In his final 14 starts, he was 7-3 with a 2.41 ERA. Thirteen of the starts resulted in a quality start. Even in his final loss on August 24th in KC, he was strong, throwing a complete game in a 2-1 loss.
When the Indians needed him the most, he was clutch, earning the win in five of his last six decisions, all victories for the Tribe. He threw another complete game against the Angels on September 8th and followed it with a 13-strikeout performance in his next start against the Royals, a career high. A key to his success was reducing damage via the long ball during the final months of the season – after giving up 15 bombs in the first half, he allowed just five in the second.
Thanks to Sabathia and the 19-8 record and a 3.06 ERA from Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez), the Indians were heading to the postseason for the first time in six years.
Sabathia ended the season 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 34 starts. He finished second in the Majors in wins, one behind Boston’s Josh Beckett, and led all of baseball with 241 innings pitched. He was second in the AL to teammate Paul Byrd in walks per nine innings and to Toronto’s Roy Halladay in complete games. His 209 strikeouts were fifth in the AL.
For Sabathia’s Cy Young campaign efforts, he was lucky that the regular season was all that was considered in the vote, because the Indians were on the unlucky receiving end of some of his worst performances of the season come October.
As the Indians faced the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series, Sabathia got the ball for the series’ first game. He earned the win but it was not without difficulty, as he walked six batters and threw 114 pitches in five innings of work. Three runs scored and two balls left the yard, but he was backed by 12 runs of offense as the Indians took the early series lead, 1-0. They would win the best-of-five series in four.
Sabathia earned the nod for Game 1 of the ALCS and faced his chief Cy Young competition in Beckett. The Tribe’s ace got shelled, coughing up eight runs on seven hits with another five walks in four and one-third innings, his second shortest outing of the season.
The Indians bounced back after the loss, winning three straight games to pull within one win of the World Series, and again Cleveland sent Sabathia to the mound for Game 5. He pitched better, taking a 2-1 deficit into the seventh inning, but a leadoff double and an RBI triple knocked him out of the game. He would be charged with one more run on a sacrifice fly allowed by Rafael Betancourt. The Sox would win 7-1 as the series tilted back to Boston, where things never recovered for the Tribe.
In the BBWAA vote, Sabathia edged out Beckett, despite some numbers favoring the Red Sox righty. Sabathia made four more starts than Beckett, which helped to account for the 40 1/3 innings separating the two. Sabathia, despite his walk trouble in the postseason, walked just 37 over the course of the season, giving him a 5.65 strikeout-per-walk ratio.
Sabathia received 19 first place votes out of 28 possible and 119 total points. Beckett received eight first place votes and 86 total points in the balloting. Carmona was fourth in the voting.
In the end, Beckett wound up with the better piece of hardware, as his Sox had swept the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. He was 4-0 in the postseason with a 1.20 ERA and took home the ALCS MVP on his way to his second career championship.
Sabathia’s award-winning season was easily the best of his career and put him front and center as one of the premier pitchers in the game and one of the top names approaching free agency following the 2008 season.
But, as has become common knowledge since, Sabathia was shipped out of town the following season in the final year of his contract when the Indians stumbled out of the gate. It often gets overlooked that the Indians were able to get something rather than be left empty-handed, acquiring four players from Milwaukee for a reigning Cy winner whose contract demands were going to ultimately see him leave Cleveland anyways for the almighty dollars of free agency. For many years, the trade was still regarded as a bust, as centerpiece slugger Matt LaPorta never panned out, pitcher Zach Jackson was a rotation fill-in for Sabathia that season, and pitcher Rob Bryson pitched just 13 games at the Triple-A level in his minor league career and did not play at all in 2014. Had it not been for the emergence of AL MVP finalist Michael Brantley, the player-to-be-named-later if the Brewers made the playoffs, the trade would have been a complete flop.
Incidentally enough, Brantley will find out this week if he can eek past former Indians catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez and young phenom Mike Trout to be named the league’s best, while Kluber hopes to mirror Sabathia’s accomplishment with a new trophy of his own.
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