Phil Coke shows that anybody can pitch the ninth

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Did you ever notice that when baseball broadcasters start talking about the ninth-inning mentality and about all the setup men who couldn’t handle the closer’s role, they never go on to name names?

Moments after John Smoltz went on his little spiel about how not everyone can pitch the ninth Sunday, Phil Coke finished shutting down the Yankees for his first postseason save. Coke, closing in place of the beleaguered Jose Valverde, pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three, in relief of Anibal Sanchez as the Tigers gave themselves a 2-0 ALCS lead.

By the way, this is the same Phil Coke…

– who gave up a .396 average to right-handed hitters this year. Righties were 40-for-101 with 13 extra-base hits against him.

– who had given up nine homers in 40 2/3 career innings at Yankee Stadium. Coke, of course, started his career with the Yankees before being included in the three-team Curtis Granderson-Austin Jackson-Ian Kennedy-Max Scherzer-Edwin Jackson deal that also included the Diamondbacks.

– who had a 5.82 ERA after the All-Star break this year.

Coke struggled enough that manager Jim Leyland lost some faith in him against right-handers. Coke made 20 appearances between August and September, but he pitched just 11 1/3 innings between them. He typically went a full innings in his outings early in the year (apart from Aug/Sept, he pitched 42 2/3 IP in 46 appearances).

And Coke did allow a hit to a right-hander today. Alex Rodriguez singled off him with two outs in the ninth. Somehow, Coke avoided collapsing from the pressure of the situation afterwards. He just did his usual thing (well, it’s everyone’s usual thing lately) and struck out the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson to end the game.

CC Sabathia wants to return to the Yankees in 2018

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CC Sabathia‘s contract is set to expire this offseason, but for the long-tenured left-hander, nowhere feels more like home than New York. “I want to see this through,” Sabathia told reporters after a devastating Game 7 loss in the ALCS. “This is where I want to play.” Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman spoke warmly of the veteran starter, but would make no public guarantees that he’d return to the team next spring.

Sabathia, 37, just topped off his 17th season in the big leagues and his eighth career postseason run. He went 14-5 in 27 starts and put up a 3.69 ERA, 3.0 BB/9 and 7.3 SO/9 in 148 2/3 innings, good for 1.9 fWAR. He looked solid in the playoffs, too, propelling the team to a much-needed win in Game 5 of the ALDS and returning in the Championship Series with six scoreless innings in Game 3. His season ended on a sour note during Game 7, however. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings against a dynamic Astros’ offense, allowing one run on five hits and three walks and failing to record a single strikeout for the first time in 23 career postseason appearances.

Heading into the 2017 offseason, Sabathia finally arrived at the end of his seven-year, $161 million deal with the Yankees. While he’s repeatedly expressed a desire to keep pitching, despite rumors that his career might be on the rocks following the diagnosis of a troublesome degenerative knee condition, the decision isn’t his alone to make. Brian Cashman will also be seeking an extension with the Yankees this winter, so it’s difficult to say which impending free agents the club will try to retain — and Sabathia’s name isn’t the only one on that list. If it were up to skipper Joe Girardi, who is awaiting a decision on his own future with the organization, the decision would be a no-brainer. From MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

CC will always be special to me because of what he stands for and the great player that he is, the great man that he is,” Girardi said. “The wonderful teammate that he is. How he pulls a team together. He’s as good as I’ve ever been around when it comes to a clubhouse guy, a guy that will take the ball when you’re on a losing streak or that you can count on, and knowing that it could be the possible last time.