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NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia had just finished up a week of wiping the Yankee Stadium floor with two of the top heavyweight pitchers in baseball. On Tuesday, he took a decision from Phillies ace Roy Halladay. On Sunday, he knocked out the Mets' Johan Santana.
After his 4-0 victory, the 6-foot-7, nearly 300-pound pitching giant talked about it all without making any declarations about his greatness.
|Don't look now, but CC Sabathia is heating up.|
No, Sabathia didn't gloat. To him, he didn't take out Halladay and Santana.
He didn't silence critics either, who were recently beginning to question him. At the end of last month, there was some concern about Sabathia. May was not a good month for Sabathia (1-2 with a 5.15 ERA). It even included a six-run, 10-hit loss against Santana and the Mets.
No -- to Sabathia, he just beat the Phillies and the Mets this week. Nothing more, nothing less.
Others may have been worried, but he wasn't.
CC might as well stand for "cool" and "calm" instead of Carsten Charles.
"You have to keep grinding," Sabathia said in his typically nonchalant way.
On Sunday, Sabathia likely missed getting a complete-game shutout only because of a 22-minute rain delay that pushed Yankees manager Joe Girardi to replace his starter after eight innings and 100 pitches.
The ageless Mariano Rivera retired the final three Mets, which extended his hitless streak to 22 batters in a row, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
It also allowed the Yankees to occupy the top spot in the American League East alone, along with the best record in baseball, for the first time in two months.
After disposing of Halladay and Santana, Sabathia is 8-3 with a 3.68 ERA. He has removed any questions about him and replaced them with a different question: Could he be an All-Star?
Sabathia does it with a tranquility that makes him a leader, which can be rare for a starter because they are only on the field once every five days.
"There is a calmness about CC," Girardi said, explaining how Sabathia can lead.
Sabathia's career history shows it is just a matter of time before he gets it going. When the weather gets muggy, like it was on Sunday, Sabathia becomes Bob Gibson-great.
In the past two years combined, Sabathia is an out-of-this-world 20-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 30 starts in the second half of the season. He usually starts to heat up around now, right before the All-Star break.
In the seventh inning Sunday, protecting a four-run lead, Sabathia demonstrated why he becomes better when the weather heats up and the innings total rises. After giving up a hit and a walk, Sabathia escaped trouble by overpowering the Mets.
Against Rod Barajas, Sabathia fell behind 2-0, which could have caused a lesser pitcher, or even a younger Sabathia, to fall apart. But Sabathia can do what the really good ones can -- he can take a big moment and break it down to its smallest elements.
"I don't think I was that calm when I was younger," Sabathia, 29, said. "I think I get in these situations and I try to slow the game down, which is something I really learned from Kevin Millwood. He gets into trouble and he slows everything down."
Sabathia and Millwood played together in 2006. In 2007, Sabathia won the AL Cy Young Award. In 2008, Sabathia was fifth in the NL Cy Young voting, and last year he finished sixth in the AL.
So Sabathia slowed down the game against Barajas, throwing a fastball for a called strike and a changeup for a swinging strike to even the count at 2-2. Then he unleashed a 96 mph fastball that Barajas could only watch for strike three. Next, Fernando Tatis hit a grounder to Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod threw to Robinson Cano at second base, who relayed to Mark Teixeira at first for the double play.
On the play, Cano -- who is probably going to win a Gold Glove and maybe some even greater awards this year -- stood in at second as Jason Bay bore down on him. Cano hung in there and made a strong throw.
Sabathia can beat opponents in so many ways. While he overpowered Barajas with velocity in the seventh, in the first he stranded a man at second by striking out Ike Davis with an 81 mph changeup.
From Derek Jeter to A-Rod, there is a galaxy of big names in the Yankees' clubhouse, but there is only one No. 1 starter. Sabathia is arguably the most important Yankee.
"Our formula is pitching," Jeter said.
Sabathia leads the way, beating the big guns and knocking down any questions about him. Is there anything that gets him riled up?
"This LeBron hype is killing me," Sabathia said.
Because the lefty wants to know where LeBron James will end up and he would like people to stop asking if he knows where his friend will go.
In the meantime, in baseball, Sabathia is just taking out the game's biggest pitching names, one by one.
GAME NOTES: Joe Girardi took Alex Rodriguez out in the ninth inning. Girardi said he did it just as a precaution to protect A-Rod after the 22-minute rain delay. Even without the DH, Rodriguez said he hopes to play in all six games on the Yankees' upcoming Arizona-Los Angeles road trip.
Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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