ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – CC Sabathia showed exactly what the half-million-dollar bonus meant to him.
Not a thing.
Not when forced, in his mind, to choose between earning the money and protecting a teammate.
After cruising through five one-hit innings, which put Sabathia two innings away from triggering a $500,000 bonus in his contract for completing 155 innings this season, Sabathia hit Rays catcher Jesus Sucre in the left thigh area with none out in the sixth inning and the Yankees leading by 11 runs on Thursday. That prompted his immediate ejection, as he knew it would when he threw the pitch.
As Sabathia said after the 12-1 victory that lowered the Yankees’ magic number for clinching home-field advantage in the American League wild-card game to one: “I don’t really make decisions based on money, I guess. Just felt like it was the right thing to do.”
Both teams had been issued warnings before Sabathia (9-7, 3.65) hit Sucre, so he was thrown out of the game by plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Manager Aaron Boone also was ejected, which is automatic in that situation.
“That’s for you, [expletive],” Sabathia could be seen mouthing toward the Rays' dugout as he defiantly left the field, staring at the opposition during the entirety of the walk to his own dugout.
It was clear retaliation for the 93-mph fastball that Rays righthander Andrew Kittredge buzzed behind Austin Romine's head in the top of the sixth (Carapazza warned both dugouts after the pitch).
Sabathia even took a couple of steps out of the dugout to yell at Kittredge and had to be restrained by Boone, who, like most Yankees, still fumed afterward.
“They threw the ball under his chin,” Sabathia said of Romine (actually understating the danger of the pitch). “That’s never a good spot to throw at somebody. I think we all took exception to that.”
That they did.
“You don’t throw at anybody’s head,” said Giancarlo Stanton, who homered twice to give him 37 on the season and who, while with the Marlins, once was hit in the face by a fastball thrown by Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers, now with the A’s. “It doesn’t matter what happens out there.”
Aaron Judge, who had two sacrifice flies, said the sequence didn’t raise Sabathia’s clubhouse status because it couldn’t get any higher.
“He looks out for everybody,” Judge said. “He’s always going to look out for guys in this room, and that’s what he did tonight.”
Romine, after going down, shared some words with Sucre.
“You can never prove intent. I think people have been trying to do that for a long time,” he said. “[But] six [shakeoffs] and a ball behind your head? I’ll leave that up to you guys to figure that out.”
It seemed to be a reaction to Sabathia hitting Jake Bauers in the hand an inning earlier, as well as the slider thrown by Masahiro Tanaka the night before that hit Kevin Kiermaier in the right foot, causing a hairline fracture.
“There were a lot of guys who got hit this week,” Kittredge said. “They had some guys who got hit, too. It’s baseball.”
The Yankees, who already had a 7-0 lead, tagged Kittredge for four runs in the inning on Brett Gardner's RBI triple, Judge's sacrifice fly and back-to-back home runs by Luke Voit (three hits, two RBIs) and Stanton.
Miguel Andujar’s three-run homer just inside the leftfield foul pole capped a four-run first and gave the rookie 27 home runs and 90 RBIs. The Yankees (98-61) totaled four homers – giving them 260 for the season, tied with the 2005 Rangers for second-most in major-league history behind the 1997 Mariners, who hit 264. They outhit the Rays 13-2, throwing their second combined two-hitter in the four-game series.
All of it, of course, was overshadowed by Sabathia, who even garnered some support in the opposing clubhouse.
“I have a lot of respect for CC, and if he feels he should need to hit somebody and he did it, I have more respect because he protects his players,” said Tampa Bay’s Carlos Gomez. “That's how the game is supposed to be played. You protect your guys.”