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07/08/08 8:21 PM ET

Emotional Indians bid Sabathia adieu

Tribe looking to move on without on- and off-field leader

DETROIT -- The news, like the Indians' plane from Minneapolis to Cleveland, had yet to land.

But it was coming.

So manager Eric Wedge huddled up with staff ace CC Sabathia on Sunday evening and gave it to him straight. A trade sending Sabathia to the Brewers was in the works, so the flight back to Cleveland was his chance to say goodbye to his teammates.

"I told him it was an honor to manage him," Wedge said. "And I thanked him for all he had done."

It was an emotional goodbye on the tarmac when Sabathia left his Tribe teammates. But all involved knew such situations are part of baseball.

And leave it to third baseman Casey Blake to show his funny side during Sabathia's farewell.

"I told him, 'Nobody around here liked you anyway,'" Blake recalled with a smile.

That's not true, of course. Sabathia was as popular as a player as can be -- not just for the incredible performances he gave the Indians on the mound over the last 7 1/2 seasons, but also for the indelible imprint he left in the clubhouse.

"He was a good friend," Blake said. "He was a guy you just liked being around. You could never tell what was going on in his life, because he was always smiling and laughing."

What the Indians are going through this season is no laughing matter, and Sabathia's departure is proof positive that the front office is not expecting to contend in 2008.

The players knew this day was coming. Sabathia's fate was basically sealed when the Indians were swept by the first-place White Sox in Chicago last week.

Still, this was a difficult pill to swallow.

"It's going to be tough not to have his presence and what he was to this team," center fielder Grady Sizemore said. "But it's part of baseball. It's out of our control. We've got to move on."

The Indians will move on with Cliff Lee now the de facto ace of the staff. And Lee admitted it will be tough not having Sabathia, a fellow southpaw, next to him in the clubhouse to lean on for advice.

"The main thing I'm going to miss is being able to talk to him about how you pitch this guy, how do you pitch that guy and what you were thinking here or there," Lee said. "Just basic pitching strategies and stuff like that."

With a makeshift lineup on the field, Sabathia gone and Victor Martinez on the disabled list, this is an Indians team lacking some of its leaders. And Sabathia's absence could be felt in the visitor's clubhouse at Comerica Park before the Indians' first game without him.

"When you're 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, you're going to have a presence," Lee said of Sabathia. "He wasn't a rah-rah guy, but when he spoke, people listened. The team's going to take on a different identity with him gone."

Wedge hopes his players find some way to make the best of a bad situation.

"Now that [the trade] is said and done, we can move forward," Wedge said. "Now we can get busy and take the next step as a ballclub."

What is the next step?

"A lot of it comes down to the expectation that these guys have for themselves," Wedge said. "I want it to be consistent with the expectations that I have for them. I want their confidence level that they show in themselves to be the confidence that I have in them. If you do that and exude that confidence and come to the ballpark with great expectations, you're going to be a better ballclub."

But the Indians, who came into their two-game series with the Tigers in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, aren't there yet. Wedge admitted that the feel he gets from his players walking into the clubhouse is not the feel he wants or the feel he expects will be there by season's end.

No, on Tuesday, the Indians looked more like a team missing a big competitor and a big friend.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.