The importance of CC Sabathia's presence in a rotation cannot be understated, to the point where the Yankees' main focus immediately after the season was to make sure their left-handed ace wasn't going anywhere. In the club's eyes, a new contract extension was a just reward after Sabathia again shouldered the load for New York's starters, going 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 33 starts as he completed his third season in pinstripes.
"It was clear to everybody that I wanted to be a Yankee, wanted to end my career as a Yankee, and hopefully I can do that," Sabathia said after his new five-year, $122 million deal was finalized.
The season also ensured that Sabathia received consideration for the American League Cy Young Award, which was won by Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers in results announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday.
While Sabathia, who finished fourth behind Verlander, Jered Weaver and James Shields, would have no qualm with the naming of Verlander, whom he named as a legitimate AL MVP Award candidate, Sabathia's year was nothing to sneeze at.
2011 AL CY YOUNG AWARD VOTING
Voting results for AL Cy Young Award as conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America
He notched his third straight season with at least 19 victories, ranking second in the AL in wins and strikeouts (230), fourth in winning percentage (.704), fourth in innings pitched (237 1/3) and ninth in ERA.
The 31-year-old allowed just 12 extra-base hits to left-handed batters in 2011 and had five double-digit strikeout games, the most by a Yankee since Mike Mussina had six in 2001.
"I've always said, once you go out and you've got a Derek Jeter and you've got [Mariano Rivera] out there, and you have Alex [Rodriguez] out there, it takes a lot of pressure off any situation," Sabathia said. "You can just go out and do your part and you have a good chance of winning."
The Red Sox proved to be a thorn in Sabathia's side, as he was 1-4 with a 6.39 ERA against Boston, but Sabathia seemed to dominate most every other club. He was 18-4 with a 2.49 ERA against all other teams.
"[I love] the energy, what you get coming out of the bullpen," Sabathia said. "The fans, the energy, everything it is to be pitching in New York, in the Bronx. It's just so much fun, and to be a part of this organization is a dream for me."
New York's Opening Day starter once again, Sabathia started his season winless through four starts before finally getting on the board April 23 against the Orioles. He hit his stride in the summer, firing at least eight innings in four starts from May 19 to June 4 and winning seven consecutive outings from June 14 to July 16, matching the second-longest consecutive winning streak of his career.
Sabathia allowed just seven earned runs over an eight-start stretch from June 25 to Aug. 1, going 7-1 with a 1.01 ERA.
"I have a ton of confidence in CC," manager Joe Girardi said during the playoffs. "This is a guy that's been doing it for a long time. He's a guy that gives you a ton of innings, but he gives you quality innings. I have a ton of belief. You know he's not going to panic. If he gets in a tough situation, he's going to continue to make his pitches."
Perhaps Sabathia's most dominant start of the year came on July 26 against the Mariners in the Bronx, as the fireballer took a perfect game into the seventh inning, striking out a career-high 14 batters and settling for a one-hit performance over seven innings after a 30-minute rain delay interrupted his evening.
Sabathia would never admit it, but that evening may have taken something out of him. Complaining about his fastball command, he was just 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA through his final 10 starts of the regular season, leading into a disappointing postseason.
New York also employed a six-man rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Triple-A, a situation that Sabathia accepted but wasn't necessarily thrilled about.
"I'm not going to sit here and say that the change in my routine had anything to do with the last month," Sabathia said. "It is what it is. When it was my time to go and they give me the ball, I go out there and pitch. It is what it is."
It was also speculated that Sabathia, who admitted he had become "a little lax" with his conditioning after dropping to about 290 pounds in the spring, may just have run out of gas late. He has vowed to improve his fitness level again this winter, and intends to lose weight -- and keep it off -- in 2012.
"I just need to go out and be healthy, try to do what I can to be out there for every start, to be there for the team," Sabathia said. "For me, that means losing weight. So that's what I'll do."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.