With his mom and wife in his corner, CC Sabathia returns in style

DETROIT -- CC Sabathia had always been the man who carried everyone else. For his family and for his team, for the longest time, he has been the leader, the one they looked to when times were difficult.

So there he was in October of last year, on the eve of the New York Yankees' playoff game, and he needed help. He had to look out for himself, shed any embarrassment and admit his problem with alcohol.

He did so, and he found strength around him.

From his manager to his GM to his teammates, they were all there for Sabathia. But there were two women who were most special for him -- his wife, Amber, and his mom, Margie.

On Saturday, his mom and wife were in a suite protected from the frigid air on the coldest day in Comerica Park's history. On the mound, Sabathia -- no longer the ace, just a No. 5 starter -- battled the 31 degree temperature and the heavy, right-handed-hitting lineup.

And Sabathia won. He threw six innings of three-run ball, nibbling where he once overpowered. He mostly ignored his diminished fastball in favor of a cutter-change combination that limited the likes of Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

And after being sober for the past six months, Sabathia looked forward to celebrating at a dinner with his family, who have made his recovery a little bit easier.

"My wife and my mom, they were there every step of the way," Sabathia said when asked who have been the most important people for him since he went into Joe Girardi's office at Camden Yards on the final weekend of last season to tell his boss he had a problem and could not report to work the rest of the year. "Obviously, these guys in here were great, but my wife and my mom were just kind of that rock during that tough time."

There will be plenty of time -- and starts -- to figure out what Sabathia has left, if his reinvention of his career as a soft-tosser can be sustained. On Saturday, it was not hugely important that Sabathia became the first Yankee starter to pitch into the seventh inning all season. That is a nice side note, but it is not the lede.

Saturday was about fighting his disease and showing people that a successful, multi-million dollar champion can be vulnerable and come back. Sabathia did it with his wife and mom at his side.

"It is just standing by me and being there every step of the way," Sabathia said. "It will be good to see them after the game."

Sabathia is truly loved in the Yankees clubhouse. He has mentored many young pitchers. More than that, though, it is how he treats people, from team personnel to the media to fellow stars with respect. That, as much as his award-winning pitching history, is why so many were rooting for him.

"We have always had his back," Girardi said. "The guys in that room have always had his back. And he gave us a big start today."

It was just the fifth game of the season, but it was big because of where Sabathia was in October and where he ended up on this Saturday in April. It was most important, though, how he planned to celebrate.