CC Sabathia has said repeatedly this season that he would rather win a World Series championship than win 20 games or another Cy Young Award.
But sooner or later this season, Sabathia will have to acknowledge the obvious: That in order for the first one to happen, at least one of the others must happen, too.
The New York Yankees are all about team, but in this instance, it seems necessary to meet an individual's goal in order to have any shot at accomplishing the team objective. Simply put, considering the state of the Yankees rotation, if Sabathia doesn't continue to pitch like a guy gunning for the Cy, there won't be any World Series championship for the Yankees this year. There might not even be a World Series.
The Yankees remain in a tight race in the AL East, and with seven games left against the Tampa Bay Rays, they need as many wins as they can get against everyone else. If that means Sabathia has to start thinking about himself a little, rolling up as many wins as possible, then Tuesday night would be a very good time to start.
Sabathia can begin by getting that elusive 20th win out of the way at Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles, a team he has dominated this year and throughout his 10 big-league seasons.
Incredible as it may seem, the 20-win plateau has eluded Sabathia twice in his career, last year and in 2007 as a Cleveland Indian (he won the Cy Young that year). He is arguably the best active pitcher never to have won 20, and he has maintained all season long that it doesn't matter to him if he never does.
Well, it will be an upset if he doesn't finally get that one out of the way.
Sabathia has beaten the Orioles all four times he has faced them this year, and his career record against Baltimore is a commanding 13-1 with a 2.59 ERA. The only time he has lost to the Orioles was Opening Day 2009, in his first appearance as a Yankee; perhaps burdened under the weight of the seven-year, $161 million contact he had gotten for Christmas, he was batted around for six runs in less than five innings.
Since then, he has beaten the Orioles eight straight times, with a 2.11 ERA, including a complete-game shutout at Camden on May 8, 2009.
And this year, the rest of the league hasn't fared much better: Since June 3, Sabathia is 15-2 with a 2.55 ERA. He hasn't gone fewer than six innings since May 23 and has gone into the eighth inning 10 times. Everything about him this year spells A-C-E, and on a pitching staff in which any day other than CC Day is a day of worry, he has been, as manager Joe Girardi says, "the one constant in our rotation."
As Sabathia has moved closer to the 20-win mark this season, Sabathia has deflected all inquiries with a variation on the same line: "I'll think about it when I get to 19."
After he beat the Oakland Athletics, shutting them down on one hit at the Stadium over eight innings on Sept. 2 to win No. 19, it finally seemed safe to ask him the question again.
"It'd be kinda cool, no doubt about it," he said. "But you know I'd rather..."
Yes, we know. Winning the World Series comes first. Bagging 20 wins or a second Cy Young Award? Way down the list.
Except that this year, the Yankees need CC Sabathia to be more than just their ace. They need him to be selfish, too.