It remains to be seen if Sabathia's Indians have what it takes to win the American League Central Division again this year, but Sabathia, at the least, kept the Tribe's hopes for such success alive Sunday.
For when Sabathia outpitched Maddux in a 7-3 victory over the Padres in front of 33,017 on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field, he guided the Indians to their second straight series win on this quick six-game homestand.
Maddux obviously has more experience, more Cy Young Awards under his belt and more records in his name. But on this day, Sabathia was just a little bit better. The reigning AL Cy Young champ gave the Indians eight strong innings of work in which he allowed three runs on six hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts.
"He was good all day," manager Eric Wedge said of Sabathia, who has posted a 2.39 ERA over his last 10 starts. "He was just as strong in the eighth as he was early on."
The same can be said of the Indians' offense, which continues to find its rhythm, despite the growing list of players absent by injury.
A team must be aggressive against a pitcher of Maddux's ilk, because he's as dangerous as they come with two strikes. The Indians' ability to get after Maddux early and take advantage of his mistakes paid off on this day.
In the third inning, Maddux made a rare mental blunder when he errantly threw to first on a routine Franklin Gutierrez grounder back to the mound. Two outs later, Maddux plunked Jamey Carroll with a pitch to put two on. Ben Francisco stepped up and smacked a three-run homer to left on a first-pitch fastball.
"The home run doesn't bother me ... I earned that," Maddux said. "The throw should not have happened. The other guy [Sabathia] is too good a pitcher to give up that many runs. You can't give the team an extra chance. I did that."
"[Sabathia] was good all day. He was just as strong in the eighth as he was early on."
-- manager Eric Wedge
As it turns out, though, the 3-0 lead afforded Sabathia by that blast was not enough.
In the fourth, Tony Clark's bloop single to right put two on with one out against Sabathia, and the Padres pounced. Justin Huber lined a double to left to bring in one run, Khalil Greene brought in another when he reached on an infield single by beating a sliding Ryan Garko to the first-base bag, and Michael Barrett tied it up with a sacrifice fly to left.
Sabathia was none too pleased to have squandered the lead.
"I was upset," he said. "But I thought to myself, 'No more.'"
That thought would turn into reality. The Padres never really mounted much of a threat off Sabathia the rest of the way.
"[The fourth inning] didn't faze him," Wedge said of Sabathia. "That shows his toughness and maturity."
Sabathia has been a victim of some tough-luck losses this season when his teammates didn't give him much run support, but that wasn't a problem as this game evolved.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Indians regained the lead when Shin-Soo Choo doubled, moved to third on a Jhonny Peralta groundout and scored on a Casey Blake groundout. In the sixth, with two on and two out in Maddux's last inning of work, Gutierrez grounded a single up the middle to bring home a run and make it 5-3. And in the seventh, Grady Sizemore all but sealed the win with his leadoff homer off reliever Cla Meredith.
"We're making some strides," Sizemore said of the offense, which averaged 6.2 runs per game on the homestand. "We're putting at-bats together and getting the big hit when we need it."
The homestand was a hit with Wedge, who was happy with the way his players handled yet another batch of adversity with Victor Martinez and Josh Barfield both landing on the disabled list and Travis Hafner's eventual return from the DL pushed back.
"We talked about that last road trip, which was the longest trip of the year, and our guys competed in a strong fashion," Wedge said. "They brought that back here. They're pushing forward and getting better. They're settling into gaining their own identity, which is important. It doesn't always come early in the year."
Sabathia knows that as well as anybody. He has rebounded from his disastrous start to the season to post a 2.39 ERA over his last 10 outings.
And while 350 career wins might not be realistically in sight for Sabathia, he can at least take comfort in knowing that he outdueled one of the game's all-time greats.
Not that he was concerned with opposing Maddux in the first place.
"I was more worried about Adrian Gonzalez than I was about Maddux," Sabathia said. "I guess the matchup was nice, but I just wanted to throw strikes and help us get a win."