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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Credit CC Sabathia with a sacrifice

Protecting his teammates was much more important to him than the $500,000 bonus he passed up

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, center, restrains

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, center, restrains starting pitcher CC Sabathia, left, after Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Andrew Kittredge threw behind Yankees batter Austin Romine, right, during the sixth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Photo Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.

 Carrying a one-hitter into the sixth inning and only six outs away from a $500,000 bonus check, CC Sabathia was having himself a nearly perfect Thursday at Tropicana Field.

Then he saw his catcher, Austin Romine, knocked to the dirt, courtesy of a fastball behind Romine's head delivered by the Rays’ Andrew Kittredge. As Romine climbed to his feet, visibly asking Tampa Bay counterpart Jesus Sucre, “Why?” it was Sabathia who leaped to the dugout’s edge, obviously furious.

That’s the moment everything changed in the Yankees' 12-1 victory, and give plate umpire Vic Carapazza credit for having an inkling of just how much. Even after Carapazza warned both benches, he  chatted with Sabathia  on his way to the mound to remind him of the potential consequences of what he was about to do.

But if the umpire thought that would  stop what was coming next, Carapazza doesn’t know Sabathia as well as his teammates do. With so much at stake personally, Sabathia had no problem flushing it all to have Romine’s back, and he did exactly that by drilling Sucre in the left thigh with his first pitch.

Sabathia immediately was ejected, but it didn’t end there. Coming off the mound, he pointed directly at the Rays’ bench and yelled,  “That’s for you, ... ,” closing with an expletive that we can’t use on this family-friendly page.

As mic drops go, this was epic, and Sabathia didn’t care about the lost cash or an aborted gem that doesn’t come easy for a 38-year-old pitcher.

Worth it.

“I don’t really make decisions based on money, I guess,” Sabathia said. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

To him, the choice was crystal clear. Objectively speaking, however, Sabathia’s boss move was not without risk. We’ve said countless times in this space that throwing baseballs at people for revenge is reckless, with the potential to kill careers or worse, and the practice is one of the dumber unwritten rules ingrained in the sport. Also, Sabathia could have sparked a bench-clearing brawl that might have been costly for the Yankees, who -- unlike the Rays -- need everyone healthy for the upcoming playoffs.

 But in this case, Sabathia is an 18-year vet. He knows what needs to be done, and how to do it, better than we do. Plus, that’s what makes him so respected in the clubhouse: his willingness to put aside personal goals for the benefit of his teammates.

Sabathia can’t change that, nor should he. Whatever jeopardy he might have put the Yankees in, you can be assured that the people he shares the clubhouse with appreciated him putting the Rays on blast.

“He does stuff for his teammates,” Aaron Judge said. “That’s how he’s been his whole career. He looks out for everybody. He’s always going to look out for guys in this room, and that’s what he did tonight.”

Typically, in these situations, we go through the usual postgame song-and-dance about missing spots or slippery baseballs. Admitting guilt, after all, is not what someone does in this competitive arena, and Aaron Boone initially called it “awfully presumptive” to say that Sabathia was seeking payback for Romine getting flipped.

 Aside from that, however, nobody bothered to waste any time pretending this time. There was not even the usual wink-wink acknowledgment. Sabathia was never asked where he was trying to throw that 93-mph cutter because everyone already knew, and he clinched it with his angry gestures at the Rays’ bench. The only place Sabathia refused to go was a complete confession in laying out how the game should be played  and what happens when a line is crossed by throwing at a teammate’s head.

“That’s never a good spot to throw at somebody,” Sabathia said. “I think we all took exception to that.”

After the Romine incident opened the sixth -- he wound up striking out -- the other Yankees got some measure of revenge on Kittredge by ripping him for four runs that inning, including back-to-back homers by Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton. But they were just doing their job. What Sabathia chose to do went beyond that, and the sacrifice was real.

Even for a guy who has made $252 million over the course of his career, it’s always meaningful when someone literally throws away money. For those who would argue that the $500,000 was inconsequential, then why was there a clause in his contract that included it? Nothing CC does is by accident, on or off the field.

“He’s the best,” Brett Gardner said.

Maybe even a little better than that now, in the Yankees’ eyes, after everything Sabathia did in Thursday’s victory. And more importantly, for what he gave up.

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