NEW YORK – More than seven months back, in a far different climate than the one that wrapped Game 1 of this ALCS in a raw sheet of ice, CC Sabathia threw his very first fastball in the role of $161 million ace.
He started talking about a parade. In a close corner of the Yankees' spring training compound, all alone with his thoughts and the sounds of "Don't Worry, Be Happy," playing on the clubhouse speakers, Sabathia freely outlined his championship vision for a franchise in dire need of one.
"I would love to meet President Obama," Sabathia said that day, not long after Rex Ryan promised the same, "but I keep thinking about that parade and just how good that will feel.
"Just tons of people and confetti all over the place. That's the dream I keep having. It's something I've been thinking about a lot."
He could think about it some more this morning, after lording over the frozen Yankee Stadium tundra and pitching the postseason game of his life.
Sabathia struck out seven Angels and allowed one lousy walk and one lousy run and four lousy hits over eight anything-but-lousy innings. CC retired 13 of his final 14 batters and didn't surrender a hit over his last 4 1/3.
He threw 113 pitches and looked like he could've thrown 200 more. Mariano Rivera finished it up – of course he did – and the Yankees had their 4-1 victory and 1-0 ALCS lead.
"You pitch eight innings against this club and only give up one run," Joe Girardi said, "that's quite a performance. He was sensational."
On the mound, on top of this grand New York stage, Sabathia appeared as tall as Patrick Ewing and as clutch as Whitey Ford. In two playoff games as a Yankee, Sabathia has managed 15 strikeouts against one walk, and nobody should be surprised.
Fifteen minutes into his Yankee career, and a million miles from his Game 1 triumph over the Angels, Sabathia already was hitting the perfect notes. Alex Rodriguez already had confessed his performance enhancing sins, drawing another ominous cloud over a team desperately seeking the light.
Johnny Damon crossed the plate just before Rodriguez giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead. So Sabathia decided to set the sunshiny tone. It's what aces are supposed to do.
"This is the best team I've ever been on," he said. "With [Mark Teixeira] here for eight years, A-Rod for nine, [Derek] Jeter still here and the rest of the guys, there's really no limit to how many rings we can win."
Rings. Once upon a time, the Yankees talked about them eight days a week.
But the mission statement was buried under an avalanche of bad moves, division series upsets and enough regular-season losses to send the old Yankee Stadium to its grave without so much as a lousy wild-card berth.
A son of California, a free agent who could've courted friendlier October temperatures in Los Angeles and Anaheim, Sabathia didn't retreat from the cold, hard challenge in the Bronx. Jeter called him three or four times to deliver a personal recruiting pitch.
"If you want to win and … you want to have a chance to win every year," Jeter told him, "this is the place to be."
Sabathia arrived in the Bronx with a 2-3 record in the postseason and ERAs in his last two series of 10.45 and 12.27. If it wasn't quite A-Rod's October burden, the load was heavy enough.
But he took Game 1 from the Twins with a purpose last week, prompting Girardi to say, "That was the reason we got him."
Girardi and his players could talk up a storm about Sabathia's fun-loving presence in the clubhouse, about his eagerness to embrace his fellow pitchers in the spring and take them to Orlando Magic games. In the end, if he didn't pitch up to his contract in the playoffs, the big teddy bear inside of Sabathia wouldn't have seemed so cute.
CC understood the terms of engagement. "I'll take the ball whenever they need me to," he said of his bosses.
They needed him to take it under the Friday night lights
The Ian O'Connor Show is on the Sports Reporters every Sunday on 1050 ESPN.