With free agency looming, CC Sabathia climbed the hill at Tropicana Field on Thursday afternoon to make perhaps his final regular-season start in pinstripes. Sentimentality aside, there was a lot at stake. Although the Yankees had already punched their ticket to the postseason, they remained singularly focused on winning at least two more games, thus ensuring that the American League Wild Card Game would be played in the Bronx.
Sabathia stepped up to do his part, and then some. The 38-year-old carried a perfect game into the fourth inning. With two outs, CC induced an easy groundball to third base, but there was nobody there to field it due to the shift. The base hit that shouldn’t have been might have spoiled the veteran’s bid for baseball immortality, but Sabathia wasn’t done making his mark on this day.
Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge threw a pitch up and in to leadoff hitter Austin Romine in the top of the sixth, barely missing the catcher’s head. The sound of the ball crashing into the backstop reverberated throughout the stadium, as the stunned Romine fell to the ground. It appeared to be a purpose pitch, perhaps in retaliation for Sabathia plunking Rays first baseman Jake Bauers during the previous inning.
Bauers getting hit was clearly unintentional. Sabathia had been getting Rays hitters out on inside two-seam fastballs all day. In fact, the pitch that clipped Bauers barely missed the inside edge of the plate. The left-handed hitter was crowding the dish, with his elbows hanging over it. Sabathia’s pitch barely brushed Bauers’ hand, just as the rookie was beginning a late swing.
Clearly Bauers didn’t get a good read on the ball coming out of the southpaw’s hand. It was a good inside pitch, but unfortunately Bauers moved his hands right into it and got nicked. What Kittredge did in retribution, however, was unconscionable. You simply don’t throw a fastball at someone’s head. As Romine collected himself, he could be seen asking Kittredge “why?”
CC was livid, coming out of the dugout to yell at Kittredge. Manager Aaron Boone intercepted Sabathia and directed him back toward the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse. The incident wasn’t over, however.
Sabathia plunked Rays catcher Jesus Sucre on the leg to start the bottom of the sixth, drawing an immediate ejection by home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza. CC’s action was clearly purposeful, and he let everyone know it. Sabathia pointed to the Rays bench as he walked off the mound, and continued jawing at the Tampa squad as he stopped to pause in front of his own dugout. After finally descending the dugout steps, CC stood there defiantly for several minutes, before eventually departing for the clubhouse.
The Yankees’ leader wanted every single baseball fan in the world to know that he was standing up for his teammate. The message was received loud and clear. The substantial number of Yankees faithful gathered in the Trop saluted Sabathia with a sustained ovation, while Romine stood near home plate grinning with appreciation.
Loyally standing up for Romine cost Sabathia $500,000 in bonus money. He was ejected just six outs short of 155 innings on the year, which would have triggered his kicker. At 55 pitches and breezing along, CC was sure to make it. But Sabathia clearly isn’t motivated by money.
CC Sabathia was asked about flushing $500K (along with a great pitching performance) in nailing Sucre on the thigh in retaliaton. His response:— David Lennon (@DPLennon) September 27, 2018
“I don’t really make decisions based on money, I guess,” Sabathia said. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”#Yankees
After spending nine glorious seasons in pinstripes, Sabathia became a free agent after the Yankees’ 2017 campaign ended a win shy of the World Series. The potential Hall of Famer made his intentions immediately clear. He wanted to return to the Yankees and help them accomplish what they set out to do: win the franchise’s elusive 28th championship.
Going out on top, with the Yankees, was Sabathia’s singular focus. He accepted a below market-value contract to suit up for the Bombers in 2018, knowing that ownership had set a tight budget for the team. Do you think that a man such as this would eschew defending his batterymate for the sake of a half-million dollars? Not a chance.
This is one of the many reasons why I love and appreciate Sabathia so much. He’s the leader of this team, all the time, but especially with the postseason just around the corner. CC’s legendary status just grew today. Who knows, his actions on the field against the Rays could be just thing the Yankees need to jumpstart a successful title run. Sabathia couldn’t have stepped up at a better time.