ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — CC Sabathia was going to lose his no-hit bid one way or another.
Former batterymate Kelly Shoppach made Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s decision a whole lot simpler, lining a sharp single to left with two outs in the eighth inning of New York’s 10-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
“It makes it easy now, but there would have been fighting out there on the mound,” Sabathia said after learning Girardi planned to remove him regardless of what Shoppach did because of a high pitch count (111).
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“I felt good, but I understand where he’s coming from at the same time, too. It’s the second start of the year,” Sabathia added. “It would have been a good discussion.”
With a large contingent of Yankee fans among the Tropicana Field crowd of 29,892 chanting “Let’s go, CC!” Shoppach’s hit on a 1-0 pitch fell cleanly in front of left fielder Brett Gardner and ended the closest call of the big lefty’s career.
There was no visible reaction from the Yankees ace, although Sabathia (1-0) and his former teammate in Cleveland exchanged glances after Shoppach reached first base.
“Typical looks,” Shoppach said. “You can read faces.”
Girardi immediately bounced out of the dugout to remove Sabathia, who walked two and struck out five. The left-hander threw 69 of his 111 pitches for strikes and benefited from spectacular defensive plays by Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.
But Girardi said he had no intentions of allowing Sabathia to pitch beyond Shoppach, who settled into the batter’s box thinking “OK. It’s gotta be me,” to end the bid for what would have been the first Yankees no-hitter since David Cone’s perfect game in 1999, caught by Girardi.
“Watching that pitch count go up and up and up, that was what was on my mind the most. Shoppach was his last hitter no matter what,” Girardi said. “He did not know that going out. I told him when he came out. It’s not something you want to do, but you have to think big picture.”
“The big picture was the month of October. You have to think ahead. You can’t be short- sighted,” Girardi continued. “I would have loved to see him walk out with no hits and eight innings. I would have loved to see it, but it didn’t happen. It made it real easy to go get him.”
David Robertson pitched the final 1 1-3 innings to complete a combined two-hitter. Ben Zobrist doubled off the reliever with two outs in the ninth.
Sabathia also took a no-hitter into the eighth inning for Cleveland on April 7, 2002, at Detroit, with Randall Simon breaking up that bid with a leadoff single. The left-hander pitched a one-hitter for Milwaukee at Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, 2008 – the only hit coming on Andy LaRoche’s check-swing dribbler back to the pitcher in the fifth inning.
“That’s as good as I’ve seen him in a long time,” said Shoppach, one of the catchers Sabathia worked with when he was with the Indians.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Shoppach added of the single on his friend’s final pitch. “Just the history. I thought if anybody was to do it, it was supposed to be me. I know he probably thinks the opposite.”
Cano hit a two-run homer off Wade Davis (0-1) in the fourth inning, and the Yankees scored two more in the fifth on Derek Jeter’s run-scoring single and Teixeira’s RBI double, which snapped an 0 for 17 skid, the longest hitless streak to begin a season in the slugger’s career.
Teixeira also stretched out to make a diving catch on Jason Bartlett’s low liner to keep the no-hit bid alive in the sixth. It was A-Rod’s turn to shine in the seventh, scrambling to his feet after making a diving stop on B.J. Upton’s hard grounder past third base and making the long throw to Teixeira at first.
“You want to see it preserved as long as possible, even if it takes two pitchers. Our defense was great behind him,” Girardi said. “Alex had all kinds of plays. That’s what you need when you’re going through what CC was going through. You have to have some great defense.”
Sabathia walked Evan Longoria leading off the fifth and Carl Crawford starting the seventh, both on 3-2 pitches. Longoria eventually was stranded at third base, and the Rays left another runner in scoring position when Zobrist stole second after reaching on a fielder’s choice in the seventh.
Sabathia made a nice play on a comebacker from Crawford in the fourth, then slowed down Willy Aybar’s high bouncer with his pitching hand in the eighth, deflecting the ball toward second baseman Cano, who easily threw the runner out.
Two batters later, Shoppach – a .241 career hitter who had grounded to Rodriguez in the third and flied to Gardner in the sixth – jumped on a fastball as it crossed the middle of the plate.
“As soon as it left the bat, I saw how it was floating out there. I knew it was going to be a hit,” said Sabathia, who then acknowledged his buddy.
“I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him, he looked at me,” Sabathia added. “We kind of gave each other a smile, so it’s pretty cool.”
NOTES: Davis allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He walked four and struck out three for Tampa Bay. … Yankees fifth starter Phil Hughes pitched six innings in an extended spring training intrasquad game in Tampa. … Rays RHP Jeff Niemann felt fine after playing catch and a decision on whether he’ll make his next scheduled start will be made after he throws on the side Sunday. He left his first start of the season against Baltimore after being hit in the right shoulder by a line drive.