CC leaves door open for return to Crew

By Joe Frisaro
Updated: October 6, 2008

MILWAUKEE — It didn’t sound like a farewell when CC Sabathia prepared to exit Miller Park on Sunday afternoon after the Brewers were eliminated from the National League Division Series by the Phillies.

In fact, the 28-year-old left-hander, who did so much to help carry the Brewers into the postseason, left the door open about a possible return to Milwaukee.

Would Sabathia, who will file for free agency after the World Series, welcome a return to the Brewers?

“No doubt. I enjoyed my time here,” said Sabathia, who got into Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Phillies as a pinch-hitter in the third inning. “We accomplished a lot. I’ll sit back in the offseason and make the best decision for me and my family.

“I was pretty excited that I got a chance to hit today. Who knows? Maybe it will not be my last experience. We’ll see.”

Had the Brewers forced a decisive fifth game in the best-of-five NLDS, Sabathia would have made the start on Tuesday in Philadelphia against Cole Hamels. That ideal pitching matchup will not take place now that the Phillies have clinched the series, 3-1.

Acquired by the Brewers from the Indians on July 7, Sabathia projects to be the biggest name on the free-agent market. His contract demands will rival, or perhaps surpass, the six-year, $137.5 million deal Johan Santana inked with the Mets before the 2008 season.

“I haven’t even gotten that far yet and thought about that,” Sabathia said of what his future holds. “It’s still stinging a little bit, losing the series. I’ll go home this winter and make my decision.”

The money will be there for Sabathia regardless of where he signs. The mere fact that he has said the Brewers could be in the mix is encouraging.

As a Brewer, the lefty went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts since the trade.

“Is it encouraging? Sure it’s encouraging,” Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio said, when told of Sabathia’s possible interest to return. “With free agents, and everybody who is employed in baseball, it’s a two-way street. If he weren’t interested, then there wouldn’t be much for us to talk about.”

In three months, Sabathia has developed a special bond with the Brewers. One of the most dominant pitchers in the game, he stepped up down the stretch, making four consecutive starts at the end of the season on three days’ rest.

Counting his 122 1/3 innings with the Indians before he was traded to Milwaukee, Sabathia logged 253 innings this season.

In Game 2 of the NLDS with the Phillies, however, he did labor, giving up five runs in 3 2/3 innings at Citizens Bank Park last Thursday. Sabathia was tagged for a grand slam by Shane Victorino, as he allowed five runs.

Sabathia entered Sunday in the third inning as a pinch-hitter for Jeff Suppan. With one out, he went down swinging against Joe Blanton.

Still, at the plate, Sabathia hit a respectable .235 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 51 at-bats.

The crowd showed its appreciation to Sabathia, giving him a tremendous ovation as he headed back to the dugout in what may be his final game with the Brewers.

“I think the community has really embraced him,” Attanasio said. “Very quickly, he’s become a symbol for this team.”

Along with money, Sabathia will be seeking happiness with whomever he signs. In that regard, there is no doubting that he fits in well and enjoys wearing a Brewers uniform.

“It was fun. I had a good time,” he said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is one of the better times I’ve had in my career. Meeting these guys and being on this team, it was a good experience.

“Environment-wise — this is a young, talented team. Great clubhouse. Guys get along and have fun. Like I said, I really enjoyed my time here. I think that was my thing even in Cleveland. I want to have fun. I like to play this game. I like to be around people I enjoy. You’ve got to be around them eight months out of a year. That will all factor in.”

Sabathia has had a taste of both leagues, and he enjoys hitting. But that doesn’t mean he is ruling out playing in the American League, where there is the designated hitter.

“It was definitely fun to put my cleats on every day, and having the chance to be in every game,” Sabathia said of the prospect of hitting. “I definitely enjoyed my time in the National League. I’ll just have to see what happens. I wouldn’t say it eliminates [the American League], but I definitely enjoy hitting.”

And Milwaukee certainly has enjoyed its time with Sabathia.

“He’s just been phenomenal. He’s put this team on his back,” Attanasio said. “Words said by his teammates were ‘superhuman’ and ‘superstar.’ A superhuman superstar. We’ll have to take a look at the [dollar] numbers.”