OKLAHOMA CITY – OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — CC Sabathia never felt as if the pressure that can come with signing a $161 million contract ever got to him.
"It takes a lot of pressure off when you play with great players," Sabathia said Tuesday night before accepting the Warren Spahn Award as baseball's top left-handed pitcher.
"Just being around those guys and them having experience of being in the postseason and being on a championship run, it definitely gives you a calming feeling to be able to be around those guys every day and know what it feels like to win a championship."
In his first season with the Yankees, Sabathia was 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA in the regular season and was the MVP of the American League championship series. The Yankees won their first World Series since 2000.
For Sabathia, it was his third straight year winning the Spahn Award — one shy of Randy Johnson's record of four in a row from 1999 to 2002. He and Wandy Rodriguez of the Houston Astros finished in a tie in a formula including strikeouts, wins and ERA, and Sabathia was chosen as the winner with a tiebreaker based on winning percentage.
Sabathia credited his All-Star teammates with changing his mindset and allowing him to "enjoy the moment" when he's on the mound.
"It takes a lot of pressure off when you can just go out and know that if you do your job and worry about what you have to do, then those guys are going to take care of the rest," Sabathia said. "Every game I started this year, I didn't feel like I needed to go out and throw a shutout or go out and be perfect. Just keep the game close, and hopefully my team is going to score enough runs to win."
Sabathia says his first championship has made him hungrier to win again and he thinks New York's offseason moves have made the team "a little better" than last season.
"It makes you want to go back and do it again," Sabathia said. "I'm itching to get to spring training, itching to get started, itching to get to see the guys and just try to do it again,"
"Being on that big stage and knowing that the Yankees are committed to winning — going out and getting a (Curtis) Granderson, going out and trading for another pitcher, Javy Vazquez — it just makes you feel good that the organization's committed to winning even after you win a World Series," he said.
While he has benefited from a star-studded lineup, Sabathia said he also believes he has grown as a pitcher over the years. Now, he considers himself better at attacking the strike zone and harnessing his power in the right ways.
He didn't always feel that way.
"I think I was just overthrowing, to be honest. I just felt like I had to throw every ball 100 miles an hour," Sabathia said. "That's when you get wild."
Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, on hand to pass out scholarships to some of Oklahoma's top high school baseball and softball players, made this assessment of Sabathia: "CC has won three now. If he stays as powerful as he is, he's going to probably win a lot more."
"I think he's learned a good change-up and he's surrounded by good players, which is a plus," Jenkins said. "Being consistent throwing strikes, not giving in to the hitter."
Unlike Jenkins — who criticized Mark McGwire last week for what he considered an empty apology for his use of performance-enhancing drugs — Sabathia was accepting of the former slugger's admission.
"I'm pretty much over it," Sabathia said. "He apologized and came out and did what he needed to do. I think it's just time to move on from that era."
Sabathia said he didn't consider teammate Alex Rodriguez's similar admission prior to last season to be a distraction for the Yankees.
"Definitely, I think it made him feel good that we had his back, especially the new guys. We didn't really know him that well," Sabathia said. "So just for everybody to be supportive and come in and help him out, I think it brought the team closer."
"I think it freed A-Rod a lot," he added. "I can't speak for him personally but I think it just took a load off. I think it's just after a guy apologizes and comes out, it's time to move on."
Jenkins, a former Chicago Cubs ace, said he hadn't heard from McGwire and doesn't expect that he will. What he'd rather see is McGwire provide more details in a "truthful" news conference.
"The excuse he gave to the (Roger) Maris family was not, by far, enough," Jenkins said. "He broke a great man's record on performance-enhancing drugs."