As if anyone needed another reason to hope the Yankees and Red Sox meet in the playoffs, there is this: the hype for whether Boston’s hitters try to bunt against CC Sabathia.
In Thursday’s Yankee win, the Red Sox’s Eduardo Nunez laid down a leadoff bunt to test Sabathia’s mobility as he has a creaky right knee; he reached base when the throw to first pulled off Greg Bird. The tactic enraged Sabathia — who hollered at the Sox at the end of the inning — and fueled him to give up only one run in six innings.
After the game, Sabathia railed on the Red Sox, saying “I don’t give a [darn] about their reaction. I don’t care what they have to say. I’m out there early every day. If they’ve got something to say, we can meet in centerfield.”
Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice heard this and went after Sabathia in a personal way on NESN’s postgame show.
“What is he talking about? Bunting is part of the game. You try to get on base any way you can,” Rice said. “If you tell him to leave some of that chicken, that doughnut and that burger weight — maybe his leg will be OK that he can field that baseball. That’s just stupid.”
Sabathia said Friday that it was brought to his attention earlier in the day by his wife and that “she was pissed.”
“It’s just funny. He’s right. I’m fat. He won that,” Sabathia said. “I just hope when I’m that age I’m not that bitter, man.”
“I’ve been pitching for 17 years at this weight. It is what it is,” he added. “Do some research on me.”
Sabathia called bunting “weak” and said he thought opponents should stand in and take their hacks. “That’s just me. It doesn’t matter who is bunting or who I’m playing,” he said. “I get [annoyed] when people bunt — period. You’re going to get a reaction out of me. Everybody knows that. And they got the reaction.”
He claims to even call out Brett Gardner when he tries to reach base with a drag bunt.
Boston manager John Farrell was asked about Sabathia’s reaction and said he can expect more of the same if and when there is a next time.
“I’m aware of his comments, but that’s part of the skill package for Eduardo. He’s got speed . . . If he feels like that’s an opportunity for him to take advantage in a certain game situation? That’s what we do. That’s what every team does: You look to take advantage,” Farrell said. “You know what? We’re going to do it again.”
Nunez, who hit a two-run homer Friday in Boston’s 4-1 win, was asked how he would react to another team testing the mobility of a pitcher on his own team. His reply: “I would ‘play in.’ ”
Sabathia is 11-5 with a 3.71 ERA, a season of which he admits he’s surprised himself. It’s his lowest ERA since 2012 and he has been especially tough in big moments. He has started nine games after a Yankees loss and is 8-0 in them. Against Boston this season he is 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA.
“Just being able to stay healthy and repeat my delivery and kind of get a real feel for what type of pitcher I want to be now,” he said, “it’s been a surprise that it’s come along so quick.”
He is in the final year of his contract with the Yankees and does not know if the club — or any club — will seek his services for next season. “I want to pitch,” he said. “I still want to play. I definitely want to play.”
On Aug. 8 Sabathia was forced to leave the game in Toronto because of knee pain and wondered if his career might be over. He does not wonder about that now.
“I can’t and really don’t think about it. I just go day to day,” he said. “That’s really just how I live, too. After being in rehab, that’s just how I have to live. That’s kind of how I play, too. I’m just worried about Tuesday when I’m pitching in Baltimore.”