NEW YORK — Determined as we may be to script our lives, circumstances often intercede and we’re left doing the best we can with what’s left.
That is particularly true with baseball. Ted Williams finished his career with a storied home run but most players go out with a grounder to second base or some other bit of routine drabness.
Still, it seemed wholly unfair when CC Sabathia walked slowly off the mound with a partially dislocated left shoulder in the eighth inning of Game 4 in the American League Championship Series on Thursday night.
The 39-year-old Yankees lefthander, an accomplished player who decided before the season to retire, deserved to leave the game with a big strikeout in a World Series game, not with trainer Steve Donohue escorting him off the field in the middle of an inning.
Sabathia covered his face with his glove as he approached the dugout, trying to hide his tears. Then he sat down on the steps leading into the clubhouse, needing a moment to regain his composure.
The Yankees replaced Sabathia on their roster before Game 5 on Friday — Ben Heller will be the answer to that trivia question someday — officially ending his season and career. It was a terrible final scene for a career that included 251 wins, 3,093 strikeouts, a Cy Young Award, and a World Series ring.
Or was it?
Sabathia was injured when he threw a cutter that Houston’s Aledmys Diaz popped up behind second base. He fell off to the side of the mound and awkwardly turned to follow the flight of the ball.
“When I released the ball, my shoulder kind of went with it,” Sabathia said on Friday, his arm wrapped in a sling.
But Sabathia stayed on the mound, throwing three pitches to George Springer before Donohue ran on the field with manager Aaron Boone following.
The average velocity of those pitches was somehow 86.7 miles per hour.
“It felt terrible,” said Sabathia, who could need surgery. “I couldn’t even look up to see where I was throwing the ball. I was just letting it go and whatever happened, happened.”
Staying on the mound and fighting through great pain trying to get one more out in a 7-3 game, difficult as it was at the time, isn’t a bad way to go out.
“I think it’s just kind of fitting. I threw until I couldn’t anymore,” Sabathia said.
Boone grounded to third base in the final game of his 12 seasons in the majors. He was 0 for 13 in 10 games that year.
Sabathia walked off to a standing ovation from the crowd and genuine applause from his teammate and the Astros.
“He and I even kind of laughed about it a little bit,” Boone said. “In a weird way, kind of a perfect way to go out. He’s been the ultimate teammate, competitor, gamer, left everything on the field, left everything he had on the mound.”
It was like that all season. Sabathia said he needed a 2½-hour regimen of physical therapy, soaking in a hot tub, and stretching just to get his body prepared for a bullpen session. His right knee was troublesome all year and his shoulder kept him off the roster for the Division Series.
He’s ready for the next chapter of his life even it was forced upon him.
Social media was loaded with messages of admiration and support from current and former teammates. Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who won a World Series with Sabathia as his ace in 2009, broke down in tears on MLB Network.
“Makes you super emotional. So many texts, Tweets, so many things,” Sabathia said. “It’s been awesome. It’s been good to get that support from my teammates and just fans in general. But it’s all good stuff.”
Sabathia, outwardly a grizzly bear, was a beloved teammate in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and New York. He overcame alcoholism during his career and players from others teams came to admire him, even members of the rival Red Sox.
“He’s the best,” Boone said “He’s how you would draw it up from a teammate standpoint, from a competitor standpoint.
“One of the greatest things CC has, and I think is one of the greatest things on a human being, is he’s kind of dripping with humility. That’s real. That’s who he is. A lot of people can come across that way. CC is that.”
That humility was hidden away at times. Sabathia would celebrate big outs with a roar and defended teammates with an occasional well-placed fastball at an opponent.
He also enjoyed being the center of attention when he was on the mound.
“Even just [Thursday] night, just being out there, I always felt like being the pitcher of the game stopped and started on me,” Sabathia said.
“I kind of felt like I was in control all the time and that was just the best part about it. Fifty thousand in the Bronx and the [expletive] don’t start until I’m ready.”
Sabathia grinned then got up from his chair, using his right arm to steady himself. His time as a baseball player was over and while it wasn’t perfect, it was what he could live with.