Surprisingly, Sabathia has become as reliable as any Cleveland starter. Using a 97-mph fastball, a deceptive changeup and a biting breaking ball that he learned from Pole in spring training, Sabathia last Friday went 6% innings in a 5-1 win over the Reds, allowing four hits and becoming the first Cleveland rookie in seven years to strike out 11 batters in a game. Only three years ago the Indians used their first-round pick, the 20th overall, to draft him out of Vallejo ( Calif.) High, for which he pitched, played first base and was a star tight end.
"As good as he is, the grades I gave him for makeup and character were higher than his talent grades," says Paul Cogan, 43, the area scout who signed Sabathia. "There are talented guys who don't quite have the character, and there are guys with character who are a little short on talent. But C.C. is Number 1 alltime for me as far as combining talent and character."
Says Shapiro, "It's rare when the best player on the team is also the best person. That's how much we think of C.C."
Sabathia was named after his father, Carsten Charles Sabathia. That turned out to be too much of a mouthful for his grandmother, who started calling him C.C. when he was six months old. The nickname stuck. He grew to be 6'7" and a rather lumpy 250 pounds as a high school senior. (He weighs a slightly firmer 260 now.) "Other teams might have been concerned about his body type, but you could see he was a good athlete." Cogan says. "As a hitter he had the most raw power I've ever seen in a prospect."
Sabathia signed quickly with Cleveland. His deal—which included a $1.3 million upfront bonus—was negotiated by his mother, Margie, a switchboard operator who raised him as a single mom after she and her husband separated when C.C. was 12. "It's tough to put into words what my mom means to me," Sabathia says. "She's more like my best friend or a big sister. I still talk to her every night, twice on the days I pitch. My first time away from home, I was in [Rookie League] Burlington, N.C., and I was so lonely I wanted to quit and come back home. One day I spent $88 just on phone calls, calling my mom and friends."
Sabathia rose quickly through the Indians' system. This season, exceeding Hart's expectations, he pitched himself onto the major league club with an impressive spring training. Through Sunday he led all American League rookies in wins and smiles. Cleveland is convinced that his success-he had given up only one home run in his past eight starts, and the Indians were 12-6 when he pitched—is partly due to his cheery outlook. "I always tell him, 'C.C, you're going to live to be a hundred. You have no blood pressure,' " Cogan says.
Adds second-year Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel, "He doesn't say a lot, but he's very self-assured and doesn't get rattled. He stays cool, man."
Manuel is a cheery character himself, a 57-year-old with a thick Virginia drawl and a knack for bludgeoning syntax. Think of a Southern Yogi. Among Manuel's pearls this season have been, "I'll tackle that bridge when I get to it," and "If I'm going to use Wil [Cordero], I've got to start using him," and "When Russell [Branyan] is striking out, he's missing the ball a lot," and "Sometimes people don't see what they are seeing."
Manuel used less humorous phrasing to tear into his club in a July 8 meeting following a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Tribe's final game before the All-Star break and another Rocker defeat. Without using names, Manuel accused some players of not giving their all. (At the time he didn't know that Rocker had flown to Atlanta the night before to attend a Black Sabbath concert; Manuel later said he did not object to the overnight sojourn.) After the outburst Manuel spent a quiet vacation in Ohio's Amish country—particularly quiet because none of the local television stations carried the All-Star Game.
The second half began tidily enough for Manuel until Saturday. In the 12th inning he summoned Rocker, who loaded the bases. Only a powerful throw home by Gonzalez to complete a double play prevented a run from scoring. The reliever wasn't as fortunate in the 13th, which he began by hitting pinch hitter Jason LaRue. Rocker got into deeper trouble by making a throwing error on a bunt by Kelly Stinnett and then surrendering a four-pitch walk to Juan Castro (a .204 hitter). Ruben Rivera followed with a game-winning sacrifice fly.