ST. PETERSBURG – This was a vintage leadership performance by CC Sabathia, toying with the Tampa Bay Rays for five innings before getting ejected Thursday while helping to remove all the suspense as to where next week’s American League wild card will be played. In doing so, however, and costing himself a half million dollars in an innings bonus clause, CC reminded us why, at 38, he is still so much more than a fourth starter in terms of his value to the Yankees.
With Luis Severino now slated to pitch final game of the season in Boston Sunday and Masahiro Tanaka coming off two straight clunkers in which he was strafed for 14 hits, two homers and eight earned in a total of eight innings, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that J.A. Happ is pitching the wild-card game against the A’s next Wednesday – a game which became a near certainty to be at Yankee Stadium after the Yankees’ four-homer 12-1 bombardment of the Rays Thursday which lowered the magic number to playing a wild card in the Bronx to 1. What’s a bit curious is that Yankees manager Aaron Boone has still not publicly committed to Happ who, assuming he does get the start, would presumably be available for only one start against the Red Sox in the Division Series.
What is clear is that Sabathia once again reminded everyone Thursday what a spiritual force he is in the Yankee clubhouse and how he commands respect in whatever role Boone has in mind for him from here on out. It all started when he plunked Rays first baseman Jake Bauers on the wrist with two outs and none on in the fifth inning. It didn’t help that the night before Tanaka broke the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier’s foot with a pitch. Both were accidents but the Rays obviously didn’t see it that way as evidenced by the pitch from Andrew Kitteredge to Austin Romine’s head leading off the following inning. This brought CC and Boone out of the dugout, shouting profanities across the way to the Rays’ dugout.
“There was no intent (on Sabathia’s part),” said Boone. “I was so mad. I understand they were upset at Kiermaier’s foot getting broken but you start messing around with players’ heads…”
So mad was Boone he didn’t even know home plate umpire Vic Carapazza had issued a warning to both managers after the inning. CC, however, knew, just as he knew by hitting Rays’ catcher Jesus Sucre with a pitch leading off the sixth and earning an immediate ejection he was costing himself that $500,000 bonus coming to him if he’d pitched just two more innings. “I don’t make decisions based on money,” he said with a thin smile afterward.
Don’t think the other Yankees players didn’t know it, too.
“His whole career he’s always been looking out for his teammates,” said Aaron Judge.
Which is why, with CC, you have to throw out the statistics and look more at his presence when it comes to pitching big games this time of year. He’s not going to get the ball for wild-card game (at least at first anyway) – in his only start against the A’s this year on September 3 in Oakland he was hit pretty hard – but after watching his effort Thursday, Boone sounded almost wistful this wasn’t six years ago.
“What gets lost in all this (hit batters fireworks) is how well he pitched,” said Boone. “His cutter was excellent, his velocity on all his pitches was 87-88. So to see him like that, so to see him on top of his game is very special this time of the year.”