The Yankee Stadium crowd roared, rising to its feet for a warm-up pitch in the eighth inning of a game the Yankees were six outs away from losing and reaching the brink of elimination in the ALCS.
CC Sabathia was trying to prove he could stay in the game with a trainer and Aaron Boone watching from behind the mound, and what was left of the 49,067 tried to will it from their spots in the stands.
But Sabathia’s body would not cooperate once more. This time, it was his left shoulder again. He threw the pitch and immediately knew, walking off the field with trainer Steve Donohue, perhaps for the final time in his star-studded 19-year MLB career, before the Yankees ultimately fell to the Astros 8-3 Thursday night in Game 4.
“We’ve got to see more about it, but not good,” Boone said.
The 39-year-old Sabathia had been plagued by his balky right knee during the regular season, which called for multiple trips to the injured list. He made it back from the last one in time for the final weeks of September, but then was sidelined by a sore shoulder after his first appearance as a reliever, the role in which he was going to contribute in the playoffs.
The Yankees had to leave Sabathia off their ALDS roster against the Twins, but his shoulder improved enough to be on the ALCS roster.
After giving it one last shot Thursday night, Sabathia left to a standing ovation and chants of “CC.”
“It’s heartbreaking to watch him leave the field like that,” Zack Britton said. “I know how much pain he was in. Even coming in, talking to him just a second ago, he was in a lot of pain. That sucks.”
Sabathia came to the Yankees in 2009 and won a World Series in his first season in pinstripes. He was hoping to cap off his career with one more championship, but now the Yankees may have to climb out of their 3-1 ALCS hole without him.
Boone conceded “there’s a chance” the Yankees will have to replace Sabathia on the ALCS roster with another pitcher in time for Friday’s Game 5. Stephen Tarpley and Nestor Cortes Jr. are available lefty relievers while right-handers Cory Gearrin and Ben Heller are also eligible.
Sabathia had come on in relief for his second appearance of the ALCS with no outs and two on in the eighth inning and the Yankees trailing 6-3. He got a ground ball that turned into an error, hit a batter and recorded two outs before throwing his final pitch — an 87 mph cutter — in the middle of an at-bat to George Springer.
“Man, he leaves it all on the field,” Aaron Judge said. “You can never say that man never gave his all. Every single time he went out there, you had to rip the ball, rip his jersey off to get him off that mound. You got everything out of that arm. Man, that’s a warrior right there.”