CC Sabathia signed up for the charcoal. Volunteered for the pressure cooker. Jumped from the fruit bowls of Cleveland and Milwaukee into the frying pan of Yankee Stadium. Sabathia, baseball’s best left-hander two years running, went for the money five days before Christmas 2008. Signed with the Yankees for $161 million over seven years. Lot of money. But it comes at a cost. Peace of mind. Serenity. Enjoyment of the job. Pitching for the Yankees, especially after signing one of those Bronx Brinks contracts, will age a guy quicker than the Oval Office. Pitching for the Yankees will grill a guy. But Sabathia didn’t merely survive his first year in pinstripes. He thrived. Sabathia was in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night to pick up his third straight Warren Spahn Award as baseball’s best southpaw. The Yankee cauldron didn’t skewer Sabathia. It freed him. "It was the opposite,” Sabathia said. "I felt no pressure at all. Just keep my team in the game and I’d win nine times out of 10.” Sabathia would look around his Yankee infield. Alex Rodriguez. Derek Jeter. Robinson Cano. Mark Teixeira. He figured not, I better win, but, how can I lose? "People made a big deal out of the pressure, but I almost felt like I put more pressure on myself,” Sabathia said. Sabathia, who every year in OKC comes across as a big (6-foot-7), lovable teddy bear, went 19-8 for the Yankees with a 3.37 earned run average, then went 3-1 in the post-season with a 1.98 ERA as the Bombers won the World Series for the first time since 2000. "Playing with great players, it just calms you,” Sabathia said. "Live in the moment. I was able to do that, having those guys. It takes a lot of pressure off. "Do your job, you’re going to be in every game. I didn’t feel like I had to throw a shutout every game this year.” Baseball’s free-agent history is littered with the collapsed careers of pitchers who failed to live up to the big money tossed their way. Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, even Catfish Hunter, the original free agent back in 1975, who had a big year his first season with the Yankees but then went 40-39 over the remaining four years of his contract and retired. But the truly special pitchers — Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux — the Cooperstown crowd, flourished when handed a fat paycheck and the hopes of a franchise. Maybe it’s time we started thinking of Sabathia as one of those rare aces. Sabathia is 29, he’s started at least 28 games nine years straight, has reached double-digit wins every season and has gone 19-7, 17-10 and 19-8 the last three years, with the Indians, Brewers and Yanks. He’s got 136 career victories and is just hitting his prime. "I don’t know about mentioning me with those guys,” Sabathia said. "I’ve got a lot of work to do. Maybe in a couple of years, you can put me in that group.” But he’s got the look now. "He’s an athlete,” said baseball Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, who always is a part of the Spahn gala. "The media doesn’t bother him. He had a mission. Something to prove. Plus he’s got great stuff. "Same with Randy Johnson. It takes a certain individual. When you’re an athlete, put the uniform on, it’s time to pull it all together. Some guys can do it. Some guys can’t.” The New York pressure is very much real. The most intense media microscope in America resides at Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner scrutiny — for almost 40 years George, now his lippy son Hank — is worse. And if you happen to survive the New York Post and Prince Hank, the fans, the most knowledgeable and vile in sport, await. But Sabathia did what great pitchers do. Took it all in stride and fashioned a season as worthy of his paycheck as possible. "It was better than I thought it was going to be,” Sabathia said. "Best year I’ve ever experienced. All the tradition ... nothing like hearing that ‘New York, New York’ song.” Here’s another Gotham song that better fits Sabathia. "New York State of Mind.” His is right where it should be to be among baseball’s greatest pitchers. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.