Big Man, Big Results

Sabathia is the 2008 Major League Player of the Year

MILWAUKEE—"We're going for it."

With that proclamation, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin announced one of the biggest trades in franchise history on July 7.

As it turned out, it would evolve into one of the best inseason acquisitions in major league history.

The small-revenue Brewers stunned the baseball world by trading for lefthander C.C. Sabathia—the top pitcher on the trade market and one coveted by many large-revenue franchises, including the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies. How often does a team get the chance to acquire a reigning Cy Young award winner?

The price to acquire Sabathia was considerable. The Brewers surrendered their top prospect, outfielder Matt LaPorta, as well as righthander Rob Bryson and lefthander Zach Jackson. Rapidly improving outfielder Michael Brantley was also included in the deal when he was finally identified after the season as the player to be named.

The Brewers served notice that it was playoffs or bust after waiting since 1982 to play October baseball. And they figured Sabathia was just the pitcher to get them over the hump.

They were right: He went 11-2, 1.65 in 17 starts for the Brewers and 17-10, 2.70 in 35 starts overall, covering 253 innings. Most impressive of all, Sabathia overcame a rocky start with the Indians—his ERA stood at 13.50 after he gave up 27 runs in his first 18 innings of the season—to win our Major League Player of the Year award.

The 6-foot-7, 311-pound Sabathia is a very large man. The Brewers soon learned there was more to him than sheer physical size.

"We didn't realize at the time that his heart is as big as he is," Melvin said. "We knew he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. We learned later how good of a person he is."

Sabathia's impact on the Brewers was immediate. He donned a Brewers uniform for the first time one day after the trade was announced and went out in a fishbowl atmosphere at Miller Park to beat the Rockies.

The winning never stopped.

Whatever happens from here with Matt LaPorta and the other three players the Indians received from the Brewers, Milwaukee fans have to be happy with the results of the C.C. Sabathia trade. Sabathia's amazing performance got the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982, when they played in the American League East. In the 26 seasons since, here are 10 other midseason trades (listed in chronological order) that delivered immediate results for contending teams. The prices for these deals range from cheap to steep, but in each case the major league veteran at least delivered on his end of the bargain: getting his new team into the playoffs.
June 13, 1984:Rick Sutcliffe to the Cubs
Sutcliffe went from Cleveland to Chicago in a seven-player deal and immediately became the Cubs' ace, going 16-1, 2.69 in 20 starts and winning the National League Cy Young Award in the trade that most closely parallels Sabathia's. The Cubs were in a virtual dead heat with the Mets and Phillies in the NL East at the time of the deal and ended up winning the division by 6½ games over the Mets. The best player the Indians got back was Joe Carter.
Aug. 12, 1987:Doyle Alexander to the Tigers
Of course this is now remembered as the deal that delivered John Smoltz to the Braves, but don't forget that Alexander more than did his job for the Tigers. He went 9-0, 1.53 in 11 starts as the Tigers went from a game and a half behind the Blue Jays in the AL East to two games up at season's end. While the price ended up being high, many Tigers fans would probably do it again for a franchise where playoff appearances tend to be few and far between.
July 29, 1988Mike Boddicker to the Red Sox
This is another deal now more noted for the players who were sent to Baltimore (Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling), but the Red Sox wouldn't have won the AL East without Boddicker to stabilize the rotation. He went 7-3, 2.63 in 14 starts as Boston went from a game and a half back to edge the Tigers by a game.
Aug. 30, 1990: Larry Andersen to the Red Sox
And speaking of a deal noted for the player who was lost, it's the infamous trade that sent Jeff Bagwell to the Astros. It's worth remembering, though, that the Red Sox had a porous bullpen behind closer Jeff Reardon, and Andersen performed admirably after coming to Boston, with a 1.23 ERA in 15 appearances. That allowed the Red Sox to hold off the Blue Jays, winning the division by two games.
Aug. 27, 1992: David Cone to the Blue Jays
Cone was a big reason why the Blue Jays won their first World Series. He came over from the Mets for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson and compiled a 2.55 ERA in seven starts as the Jays padded their lead in the AL East, and then made four postseason starts (with a 3.22 ERA), including the World Series clincher against the Braves.
July 18, 1993: Fred McGriff to the Braves
In one of the greatest races of the two-division (no wild card) era, the Braves surged from eight games behind the Giants in the NL West when McGriff was acquired to win the division by a game, as San Francisco won 103 games yet missed the playoffs. McGriff  slugged .612 in 255 at-bats for Atlanta, while the Braves gave the Padres only Donnie Elliott, Vince Moore and Melvin Nieves to get him.
July 31, 1998: Randy Johnson to the Astros
With the Cubs in hot pursuit in the NL Central, the Astros gave up a lot of talent to bring in the Big Unit (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama), and he delivered in a big way. Johnson went 10-1, 1.28, finishing seventh in NL Cy Young Award voting in just 11 starts, as Houston stretched its lead to 12½ games by season's end.
June 24, 2004: Carlos Beltran to the Astros
Houston was two games out of the wild card, with four teams ahead of it, when it worked a three-team deal with the Athletics and Royals to get Beltran. It cost the Astros just Octavio Dotel and John Buck, and Beltran hit 23 home runs and slugged .559 in 333 at-bats, helping them win the wild card and reach the NLCS.
August 6, 2004: Larry Walker to the Cardinals
The Cardinals were already comfortably ahead in the NL Central when they brought in Walker, but he strengthened their outfield considerably—putting Ray Lankford on the bench—and hit 11 home runs and slugged .560 in 150 regular season at-bats. He hit six posteason homers as the Cardinals reached the World Series.
July 31, 2008: Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers
As big as Sabathia's achievement was with the Brewers, Ramirez's turnaround with the Dodgers would have been the most significant deal of the season in just about any other year. The Dodgers were two games out in the NL West when they got Manny, and his newfound enthusiasm (not to mention his 1.232 OPS) pushed L.A. to the division title as well as its first playoff series victory since 1988.
—Will Lingo
Sabathia pitched complete games in his next three outings, including a brilliant three-hit shutout in St. Louis in which he needed only 106 pitches to finish off the Cardinals. He went 4-0, 1.82 in five July starts to earn National League pitcher of the month honors.

Beyond Sabathia's excellence as a pitcher, his new teammates soon learned he also is an outstanding individual. Laid-back and understated, the soft-spoken giant was a seamless fit into an already close clubhouse.

"He loves it here," third baseman Bill Hall said near the end of the season. "We all hang out together and have fun together. He cheers for us when he's not out there. Everybody sees that. He's a great teammate."

A True Workhorse

As strong as Sabathia was in July, he was even better in August. He pitched a five-hit shutout against the Nationals in his second start of the month and he hurled a complete game 11-hitter to beat the Astros two starts later.

Sabathia threw 130 pitches in that 7-2 victory over the Astros, and manager Ned Yost—who would be fired with two weeks remaining in the season—drew criticism for allegedly abusing his new ace. The thinking was that the Brewers were going to drain every ounce out of their "rental" pitcher, who figured to bolt for bigger bucks on the free agent market after the season.

Yost fired back, saying he would never do anything to harm the health or future of Sabathia. Because the rotation was kept in alignment despite days off on the schedule, Sabathia got extra rest before his next outing against the Pirates and even more time off before pitching again in Pittsburgh on the final day of the month.

Sabathia certainly looked rested that last day of August, nearly pitching a no-hitter against the overmatched Pirates. Only a controversial scoring decision on a tapper by Andy LaRoche that Sabathia fumbled in the fifth inning prevented him from throwing the second no-no in franchise history.

Yost and Sabathia's teammates woofed about the injustice while Sabathia took it all in stride, never coming out of character. At that point, he was 9-0, 1.43, with yet another pitcher of the month award coming from the NL.

The Brewers' offense unexpectedly went south in September and the team spiraled into a miserable string of losses. Sabathia allowed just four runs in 14 innings in his next two starts, but the bullpen blew a lead against the Padres and the offense didn't wake up against the Reds until he had left the game.

Yost was fired on Sept. 15 after the Brewers were swept in four games in Philadelphia. Sabathia was not scheduled to pitch in that series and Yost refused to use him on short rest, though Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel did so with Jamie Moyer and Brett Myers to catch the Brewers in the wild-card race.

The irony of Yost's decision not to pitch Sabathia on short rest would come in the final days of the season, when the sagging Brewers had little choice in the matter if they wanted to stay alive in the playoff hunt.

The day after third-base coach Dale Sveum took over as interim manager, Sabathia suffered his first loss of the season in Chicago in a tense 5-4 nail-biter. He allowed four runs in seven innings—the first time he yielded more than three runs as a Brewer—and afterward took full responsibility for the defeat.

"I lost that game for us," said Sabathia, willingly taking the heat despite his brilliance since joining the club.

Playing Catch-Up

With the days winding down, the Brewers playing catch-up in the wild-card race and the starting rotation coming apart, Sveum and pitching coach Mike Maddux approached Sabathia about pitching on short rest in Cincinnati. It was a short discussion, with Sabathia basically saying, "I want the ball."

"(The rotation) was an absolute jigsaw puzzle," Maddux said. "C.C. stepped up. That's what great pitchers do."

Sabathia wasn't sharp in that outing against the Reds. He allowed seven hits and four runs, though just one earned, in 52⁄3 innings—his shortest outing since coming from Cleveland. The Brewers lost 4-3 and entered the penultimate Sunday of the season trailing the Mets by 21⁄2 games in the wild-card race.

When the Brewers made up that deficit in a matter of four days, there was no question who was taking the ball in the second game of a three-game home series against Pittsburgh. Pitching on short rest again, Sabathia allowed four hits and one run over seven innings, striking out 11 in a 4-2 victory.

During the dark days of that final month, when little seemed to go right, the Brewers often would take consolation by saying, "Tomorrow we've got C.C. pitching." They would say that one more time on the final Saturday of the season, after a 5-1 loss to the Cubs dropped them into a tie with the Mets for the wild-card lead.

And, one more time, with everything on the line, Sabathia came through.

On one of the most glorious days for the Brewers since the franchise moved from Seattle in 1970, Sabathia pitched a four-hitter against the Cubs, showing no fatigue in a 112-pitch effort on short rest for the third consecutive outing. After Ryan Braun gave the Brewers a 3-1 lead with a two-run homer in the eighth, Sabathia sealed the deal and was mobbed by his teammates on the mound at Miller Park.

Afterward, a champagne-drenched and emotionally drained Sveum tried to put into perspective what Sabathia did for the Brewers since arriving in early July.

"It's probably the greatest two-and-a-half-month performance you've ever seen from a professional athlete, in any sport," Sveum said.

The easy-going Sabathia took it all in stride. He never seemed to think he was doing anything special, never considered himself more important than any other player wearing "Brewers" across his chest.

"This team deserves it," Sabathia said. "I wasn't trying to go out and do anything special. We've still got a long ways to go, but this is big for the franchise, the city and the team. I'll pitch whenever they give me the ball."

Sabathia did so one more time, again on short rest, in Game Two of the NL Division Series against the Phillies. He finally showed some weariness, surrendering a second-inning grand slam to Shane Victorino in the Brewers' 5-2 loss.

That NLDS loss to the Phillies in three games did nothing to diminish what Sabathia did for the Brewers. And though the odds are that he'll go elsewhere through free agency, the big guy made it clear just how special his time was in Milwaukee.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say this was one of the better times of my career and my life, coming here and meeting these guys and making some new friends," Sabathia said.

"I enjoyed my time here. These guys are great. This clubhouse is awesome. This is an ideal environment. A young, talented team, (a) great clubhouse. The guys get along, (they) have fun."

Thanks to Sabathia, the Brewers had the most fun they've had since 1982.