HOUSTON -- There were many times it seemed as if CC Sabathia would never get another chance at one more playoff game, let alone an American League Championship Series Game 7.
Twice his right knee gave out, and it looked as if his career could be over. Most recently, this August, his knee buckled once again, making it seem possible it might all be over.
On top of that, two years ago, Sabathia, who lives for big games as a player and as a sports fan, missed the Yankees' wild-card game because it was time for him to deal with alcohol dependency. Besides the injuries and the personal issues, there were a lot of bad starts over the past five years.
But now, here he is. After reviving his career and with the Baby Bombers perhaps starting the Yankees' next dynasty, it is the old man who will be asked to pitch them to the World Series. To a man, the Yankees would want no one else but Sabathia on the mound to stare down the Astros and the Minute Maid Park fans on Saturday night.
"That's our guy," rookie Aaron Judge said. "Anytime we need someone in a big situation, CC's been our guy."
The Astros' lineup might have woken up in Game 6, but Sabathia won't be intimidated. He has started two elimination games in his career, and his team won both of them.
In 2012, he fired a complete game, giving up only one run to beat the Orioles in an American League Division Series Game 5. And he was the one on the mound last Wednesday to set the tone in Cleveland in Game 5 of the ALDS, lasting longer than Indians ace Corey Kluber, going 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs and striking out nine.
In his next start -- Game 3 against the Astros -- Sabathia stepped up again, with six scoreless innings, helping trim the Yankees' deficit in the series to 2-1.
"He was as razor sharp than I've seen him in a long time," said YES Network analyst David Cone, who knows a thing or two about big games. "He left no pitches over the plate at all. He owned the inside corner with a surprisingly quick four-seam cutter, 92, 93 at times. I think that is the misperception about CC. A lot of people think he is still a soft-tosser. No, he still has 92. He still has average velocity with a little bit of cut on it. To me, that plays above average."
It plays like an ace at times, especially after Yankees defeats. He is 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA after losses this year.
The last time the Yankees won a World Series, it was Sabathia pitching them to the title in 2009. He overpowered on three days' rest, while Alex Rodriguez hit game-winning home runs. From there, it has been a long road with ups and downs.
There were times it didn't even seem as if he belonged in the rotation, let alone being the guy that the Yankees wanted on the mound, as they try to win a fifth elimination game this October.
For Sabathia, 37, and a free agent after this season, it is special, because after creating those 2009 memories, the Yankees haven't returned to the Series.
"It's been a tough road, not being in the playoffs for a long time and going through my personal things," Sabathia said. "It will feel good to get out there and have an opportunity to try and pitch this team to the World Series."
Sabathia won't be able to do it alone, and he won't be asked to. With Justin Verlander out of the way after his masterful performance in Game 6 and Dallas Keuchel, at most, limited to relief, the Yankees will face Charlie Morton, whom they had their way with in Game 3.
But that was in Yankee Stadium, where their bats have been much more comfortable. At home, the Yankees are 6-0, averaging nearly six runs per game; on the road they have lost five of six, scoring fewer than three runs per game.
Judge and Gary Sanchez have been different hitters away from the Bronx. Though Judge did hit a mammoth home run for the Yankees in their 7-1 Game 6 loss Friday, that was the only time he has gone deep away from the Bronx in this series and is 2-for-11. Meanwhile, Sanchez has been worse in Houston, just 1-for-11.
On top of that, he had the worst at-bat of Game 6, when with two men on base and Verlander showing signs of being human in the sixth, he had a 3-0 count. Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave Sanchez the green light, and he treated it as if it were a yield sign. He hit a check-swing roller to shortstop, grounding out meekly to end the inning.
The Yankees have shown the ability to come back. No one more than Sabathia, on and off the field. There was a time when it was hard to fathom that the Yankees would want him to have the ball with their season on the line. That is what they have on Saturday night. They wouldn't want it any other way.
"He has the ability to slow the game down," fellow Yankees veteran Brett Gardner said. "He has the ability to take things slow and take things one pitch at a time. He has pitched in quite a few big games in his career and, I've said before, there is nobody we would rather have on the mound than him."
Sabathia won't be alone, as the Yankees will have a full bullpen, save for Chad Green. Sabathia won't be asked to finish Game 7, but he will need to set the tone from the start.
Looking back, it is somewhat hard to believe he is here. But his manager and teammates wouldn't want it any other way.