ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Regardless of what Kelly Shoppach did in the eighth inning, the Yankees' most recent no-hitter still was going to be David Cone's perfect game against the Expos on July 18, 1999.
Shoppach broke up CC Sabathia's no-hitter with two outs in the eighth with a line-drive single on Sabathia's 111th pitch yesterday, but even if he had gotten him out, the lefthander was not going to pitch the ninth inning of the Yankees' 10-0 win over the Rays. Joe Girardi said the "big picture" was more important to him than the possibility of seeing the 11th regular-season no-hitter in franchise history.
"It's not something you want to do, but you have to think big picture," said Girardi, who, along with pitching coach Dave Eiland, had predetermined the pitch count. "I told Dave 110, 115, that was it. If he would have been under it, been at 105 in the ninth, maybe I'd let him go out."
Girardi didn't inform Sabathia that Shoppach would have been his final hitter until he removed him. What if Shoppach had not gotten a hit? "It makes it easy now, but we would have been fighting out there on the mound," Sabathia said with a laugh. He was only half-joking. "That would have still been up for discussion," he said.
Asked if he thought he could have convinced Girardi, he smiled. "Probably not,'' he said, "but I would have tried my best."
Sabathia had never previously come this close to a no-hitter as a professional, with the only one he's thrown at any level coming when he was at Vallejo Senior High School (Calif). "It's hard to say 'I want to throw a no-hitter one day' because it's so hard to do and you have to be lucky," he said. "But when you get that close, when you're in the game, you want to have that happen to you."
Shoppach, once Sabathia's catcher with the Indians, made sure even a partial no-hitter wouldn't be pitched. Sabathia left an 0-and-1 two-seamer over the plate and he lined it into leftfield for a clean single.
Shoppach brought a .241 career average into the game and was 1-for-6 against Sabathia entering the at-bat. "I'll be talking to him probably tomorrow," Sabathia said. "I didn't say anything . I just looked at him, he looked at me. We kind of gave each other a smile. It's pretty cool."
Girardi said he thought of a game he caught in September 1996 when Cone, in his first start after having surgery to repair a potentially life-threatening aneurysm, was removed after seven innings of no-hit ball by Joe Torre. "You have to do it. Like that game, Joe had to do what he did," Girardi said.
Girardi said he didn't breathe a sigh of relief when Shoppach got the hit. Eiland said the decision was easy and non-negotiable. "We have a job to do, we have responsibilities, we have to protect our guys and protect this team and look out for the best interest of the team," he said. "To let him go beyond 115, 118 pitches would have been foolish."
Two sterling defensive plays helped Sabathia take the no-hit bid as deep into the game as he did. Mark Teixeira, who got his first hit of the season in the fifth and went 3-for-4, dived to his right and, fully extended, snared Jason Bartlett's liner for the third out of the sixth.
Sabathia said he couldn't be too upset with the afternoon, particularly given that he entered the game 2-3 with a 4.91 ERA in eight starts at Tropicana Field. "A win's a win, especially against this team right here in our division," he said. "So no, there's no disappointment at all."