Sports

Gardner, Sabathia chasing one last defining moment

Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia are the age-old voices of reason on the Yankees, proud Pinstriped warriors trying to make one last run at a World Series championship.

Sabathia was sitting in front of his locker before his Friday night start against the Royals when Gardner, standing at his, was asked why Sabathia means what he means to this team.

Gardner looked over to his left at Sabathia and said: “Obviously on one hand the things that he’s accomplished in this game between the lines, and just for how long he’s done it.

“But on the other hand, more importantly, the way that he treats people. Not just the way that he treats his teammates, but he’s just a guy who’s filled with a lot of love and he sets a great example for a lot of guys. And I think sometimes as a veteran player you kinda get grumpy and you kinda get old and you want to be left alone, and he’s a guy who is always willing to just give back to young guys, and he treats everybody the same.

And I think people like that are few and far between anymore.

“I told him last week when he came back, the first couple of weeks without him weren’t the same, so it’s good to have him back with us every day. I know that he means a lot to the pitching staff as well, especially those young guys, so we’re fortunate to have him.”

Sabathia is back from his heart scare, back enough for five professional three-hit innings in the 6-2 Yankees win, back for this farewell season at age 38, back for a milestone season that will soon include 3,000 career strikeouts and 250 wins.

And it was only fitting that Gardner, 35 now and gifted a 12th season by an organization that knows a true Yankee when it sees one, came to Sabathia’s aid with a two-run homer that gave him a 2-1 lead in the third inning.

“I’d like to see him obviously stay healthy all year, have a great year individually, personally and get to 250 wins and reach all those milestones,” Gardner said, “but I’d like to send him out on top and win a World Series.

“Obviously it would mean a lot to end his Yankee career how he started it, so let’s see what we can do about that.”

Sabathia walked four, moaned about the command on his cutter, threw 86 pitches.

“He’s gonna be a Hall of Famer,” Aaron Boone said.

Sabathia now has 247 wins and 2,994 strikeouts.

“I think he’ll probably get to that before he gets to 250. It’d be kinda fitting if he would do it on the same day, but he’ll get all that taken care of and I know deep down inside, those individual accomplishments don’t mean as much to him,” Gardner said. “He’s here because he wants to win. Not just individual wins either, he wants the team to win.”

Sabathia will become the 17th member of the 3,000 K Club.

“I’m just ready to be over with,” he said. “It’d definitely be a relief so I can just go out and then worry about the rest of the season and play and try to win a championship ’cause that’s all I’m really concerned about. But with it being so close, it’s hard not for it to be right there in your head.”

Gardner’s grand slam Wednesday night beat the Red Sox, and it happened to be his 100th Yankees home run. Sabathia appreciated his 101st.
“Gardy’s our sparkplug,” Sabathia said. “He’s our guy that makes us go. To see him playing well is a good sign for us.”

No one, except maybe Gardner, could have envisioned this kind of overachiever career in The Bronx. He has never listened to the naysayers, never took no for an answer, never tried to stop playing bigger than he is.

He laughed when asked to explain his longevity in New York.

“I don’t know, man, I don’t know how to explain that,” Gardner said. “One thing I think is just being fortunate to be able to stay healthy, just stay on the field and be available. There’s some value in that just being able to play every day.

“Obviously I’ve enjoyed my time here and enjoy helping out these young kids too. Anything that these guys need or questions they may have, I’ve been in those same shows not too long ago, so obviously the game’s changed a lot, but there’s definitely different things that we can all learn from each other, so it’s fun to kinda be in a different role.”

Neither one of them was certain they would be back. Sabathia had been pondering retirement before returning for a one-year, $8 million deal. The Yankees declined the $12.5 million club option on Gardner’s previous contract before offering a one-year, $7.5 million deal. He is the longest-tenured Yankee for a reason.

“I was excited to come back,” Gardner said. “Obviously I feel like we got some unfinished business here, and excited to come back and be a part of this special group.”

Sabathia, 39 in July and Gardner, 36 in August, won a World Series together in 2009. A decade later, they try one last time together to win another.

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