NEW YORK – This was opening day for CC Sabathia.
And the veteran lefty’s sparkling 2019 debut made it seem as if the Yankees’ season had just begun, paving over anything that happened before Saturday afternoon.
“Having him back and getting this win, this might be the start of something right here,’’ Aaron Judge said after the Yankees’ neat, 4-0 victory against the White Sox before 41,176 fans.
The only missing elements to Sabathia’s five-inning, one-hit performance was a ‘W’ next to his own name and a Yankee Stadium ovation upon his exit.
“I thought I had more pitches,’’ but Sabathia was limited to 62, as manager Aaron Boone turned to three relievers – beginning with Domingo German – to complete the Yanks’ first one-hit shutout since 2014.
“It just feels good to be back and around the guys again and hopefully we just keep getting guys back,’’ said Sabathia, the first of a dozen Yankees to climb off the injured list this month.
Sabathia not only helped to snap a four-game Yankees losing streak, his presence had brought some calm and stability to a club that desperately needed to right its course.
“Asking for a friend,’’ J.A. Happ said, jumping into Sabathia’s postgame press gathering. “How were you able to paint the corners.’’
The laughter that followed hadn’t been that hearty in nearly a week.
“He’s the leader of this team,’’ said Judge, who added an eighth-inning exclamation point with a solo home run. “When you’re missing your leader like that for a while, it’s tough.
“Having him back in here, his presence, his laugh – everything about him. All around, he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.’’
Yankees pitchers and catchers reported exactly two months ago, when Sabathia firmly announced that 2019 would be the final season of a splendid career.
Not often jittery, Sabathia found himself “shaking, just the nerves of being back out there. Thinking (about) where I came from in December and actually being back on the mound.’’
Two months before spring training started, Sabathia underwent surgery to insert a stent, unblocking an artery and causing him a one-month delay in his prep work.
“It’s cool, I was able to kind of harness those nerves,’’ said Sabathia, who 15 of the 16 batters he faced, striking out three and yielding just a single to Jose Rondon.
Sabathia has “always been that guy when you need a big outing, coming off a loss,’’ Boone said. “He always seems to deliver in those moments.
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“And to come out and really just have the emotional command as well to look in and continue to execute pitches, it was a lot of fun to watch him be so efficient his first game.’’
Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone on CC Sabathia’s first start of the year, going five scoreless innings in a 4-0 win Saturday vs. White Sox
Pete Caldera, Staff Writer, @pcaldera
The signature soft contact Sabathia induced was no surprise to catcher Kyle Higashioka, making his first start of the year.
“Everything looked sharp,’’ Higashioka said. “His arm looked really fresh.’’
Maybe, though, hearing Sabathia say he was nervous was a bit of a jolt to the catcher.
“He mentioned his nerves,’’ Higashioka said. “I said, ‘Yeah, me too.’’’
During the week, Sabathia had kept a running conversation going with White Sox’s starter Ivan Nova, excited to be facing his old friend and his old team on Saturday.
“He’s like a little brother to me,’’ Sabathia said.
Nova was even better than advertised, pitching into the seventh, charged with one run on four hits.
It was a scoreless, fast-moving game into the seventh when the Yankees finally took a 3-0 lead.
Gleyber Torres chased Nova (0-2) with a leadoff single and Greg Bird reached on a potential double play grounder that was booted for an error by second baseman Yolmer Sanchez.
Clint Frazier loaded the bases with a single off Ryan Burr and all three runners would eventually score.
Pinch-hitter Luke Voit hit a soft, RBI single to center, Higashioka lifted a sacrifice fly to right and Tyler Wade successfully bunted home Frazier from third on a perfectly-executed squeeze play.
German (3-0) earned the win with two sharp innings ahead of Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
But the day belonged to Sabathia.
“He means a lot to that room,” Boone said. “Classic CC.”