CC claims Clutch Performer award
Left-handed hurler dazzled down the stretch for Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- According to baseball fans, no player was more "clutch" in 2008 than CC Sabathia.The left-hander, who started the year with the Indians, finished it with the Brewers and now is available to all 30 teams in free agency, won Major League Baseball's Clutch Performer of the Year Award, presented by Pepsi, after a fan vote on MLB.com. Sabathia split the regular season between Cleveland and Milwaukee and defended his 2007 American League Cy Young Award by posting a career-best 2.70 ERA in 2008 with a career-high 251 strikeouts in a career- and MLB-leading 253 innings pitched. He was at his best after a July 7 trade brought him to Milwaukee, going 11-2 in 17 starts, including a complete-game win over the Cubs on the final day of the regular season. It was Sabathia's seventh complete game for the Brewers and his third straight start on short rest. And it will be remembered as the day Milwaukee punched its first postseason ticket in 26 years. Now, that's clutch. "If there's a better pitcher in the Major Leagues, I don't know who it is," Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said as the Brewers soaked themselves with champagne that evening. "We're going to need all the money in the world to sign him, he's so good." The other finalists for the Clutch Performer award were Indians pitcher Cliff Lee, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez. This award is the culmination of a season-long campaign in which fans voted for six different Clutch Performer of the Month Award winners. Those players included three from the Yankees -- Chien-Ming Wang (April), Jason Giambi (June) and Mike Mussina (July); plus the White Sox Carlos Quentin (May), Sabathia (August) and the Phillies' Ryan Howard (September). The nominees each month and for the season-end award were selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel. On the night the Brewers won the National League Wild Card, the superlatives were flying. "It was awesome to see someone want it that bad," Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Some people have a desire to want to win more than other people, and he showed it right there." Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum said: "It was his game, it was his two months, it was his year." However, Sabathia's career-long postseason struggles continued in Game 2 of the NL Division Series in Philadelphia, when he allowed five Phillies runs in the second inning, including a Shane Victorino grand slam, in a 5-2 Brewers loss. That loss left the Brewers in a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series. They won Game 3 in Milwaukee, but, with Sabathia looming as the probable starter for a Game 5, dropped Game 4 and were eliminated from the postseason. It was Sabathia's fourth consecutive start on three days' rest, a fact he repeatedly said had been blown out of proportion. That didn't stop Brewers general manager Doug Melvin from calling it, "one of the most unselfish things an athlete has every done." Three days later, Sabathia appeared as a pinch-hitter in the Brewers' Game 4 loss. He stepped to the plate to a loud ovation before striking out. "I was pretty excited that I got a chance to hit today," Sabathia said after the game. "Who knows? Maybe it will not be my last experience. We'll see." He left the door open to a return to Milwaukee, but it remains to be seen whether the Brewers, who have exclusive negotiating rights with Sabathia for the first 10 days following the World Series, can afford him. Sabathia will be the most sought-after arm on the free-agent market, and he is expected to get a deal that meets or surpasses the six-year, $137.5 million contract that lured left-hander Johan Santana to the Mets in February. Sabathia insisted on that Sunday afternoon following Game 4 that money would not be the only factor in his decision. Finding a comfort zone, like the one he had in Cleveland and the one that welcomed him in Milwaukee, also will play a role. "That was my thing, even in Cleveland," he said. "I want to have fun. I want to be around people I enjoy, because you're around them for eight months of the year. That will all factor in." With one more award on his mantle, let the bidding begin.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.