There was nothing outwardly pretty about the way CC Sabathia pitched against the Orioles on Wednesday night. He gave up three runs on 11 hits and a walk in 7 2/3 innings, striking out five. He was as good as he had to be but not spectacular. He won the game because his offense hit the tar out of the opposing pitcher.
For Sabathia, it was a relatively routine day's work -- not a disaster, not a game he'll remember for the rest of his life.
To the Yankees, it was a thing of absolute beauty.
Think about it. It is here, in the most pedestrian of Sabathia wins, that the true value of Sabathia to the Yankees becomes most obvious. He is everything they sought and couldn't find for years as they sifted annually through the free-agent shelves and came up with pitcher after pitcher that had good National League seasons but couldn't make it in the American League, or New York, or both.
You know the names. Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Javier Vazquez (twice now!), even Randy Johnson for goodness' sake. Year after year, the Yankees would sign these guys and see them flop on the biggest and most important stages.
Then, two offseasons ago, they got wise and decided to bring in somebody who'd been a star in the American League. Someone who had pennant-race and postseason experience. Somebody who obviously had the temperament and the perspective to succeed in New York. And so far, Sabathia has delivered on all of it.
At his best, he is a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher. On any given night, Sabathia is liable to pitch all nine innings and shut out a Major League team. He can do this in the American League East, mind you, and that is no small thing.
But even when he's not at his best, Sabathia shows why the Yankees wanted him so badly, why they paid him so much and why they don't regret a penny of it. In a town and a market that constantly bombards its sports teams with the highest expectations and the most relentless stream headaches, Sabathia gives the Yankees something totally priceless: They don't have to worry about him.
The Yankees worry now when Vazquez takes the mound. They worry he'll get bombed again, and that it'll affect his confidence and make them look bad and hurt their chances of winning the World Series, which they are required to do every year.
The Yankees worry about Phil Hughes -- not because they don't think he's good (he's great, actually), but because they know he's young and therefore both unpredictable and potentially fragile. They'll worry all year about his pitch counts and his innings, and no matter how much success he has he will occupy a fair chunk of their energy just because he's still so young.
The Yankees even worry about A.J. Burnett, who came in last year with an AL East pedigree but who's far more volatile and unpredictable on the mound that Sabathia is. Burnett has been just fine for the Yankees. At times he's even been great. But because of who he is, his wildness and his unpredictability, he is someone on whom the Yankees must keep an eye.
To some degree, the Yankees worry about Andy Pettitte. Oh, they know he's good enough and tough enough to win games in the AL East and in a pennant race and all of that, but they also know his age, and they wonder how much longer he can be as brilliant as he has been so far this year.
But with Sabathia ... no worries. They know that the worst that will happen is basically what happened Wednesday, and that if they hit the way they can, he's almost unbeatable. They know that if he throws a clunker and gets hit around, it won't affect him for the next time. They know he can get booed at home or called fat in the tabloids and he'll smile and shrug it off, if he even notices it. They know they have exactly the pitcher they need at the front of their staff in this town and with this team that must win the World Series every year or consider itself a failure.
The Yankees know. That's what they paid for when they gave Sabathia all of that money. And Wednesday night, when he was perfectly, beautifully average in an unremarkable victory over the Orioles, was in many ways the perfect example of why it was such a good idea.