No matter what Kelly Shoppach did, CC Sabathia wasn't going to face another hitter. Forget about the no-hitter, Joe Girardi had a season to consider.
Shoppach, however, lined a single with two outs in the eighth and Sabathia ended combining with David Robertson in a 10-0 victory over the Rays Saturday at The Trop in St. Petersburg, Fla.
It was easily Sabathia's best regular season start for the Yankees since signing with them before last season. The lefthander struck out five and walked two in 7-2/3 innings before allowing that single to Shoppach. He threw 69 of 111 pitches for strikes.
But as the eighth inning wore on, it was clear that Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland were going to face a tough decision. Sabathia started the inning at 102 pitches, and had this been August, that wouldn't have been a big deal. We've seen the big lefty throw 120-125 pitches in a game.
But this is April and this was Sabathia second start of the season. Everyone would have wanted to see the ace throw the what would have been the Yankees' 11th regular season no-hitter.
But that wouldn't have been wise, and Girardi and Eiland had the good sense to realize that.
“Shoppach was his last hitter no matter what,” Girardi told The Journal News. “He did not know that going out, but he knows now. I told him when he came out because, big picture. It’s not something you want to do, but you have to think big picture. I told Dave (Eiland), 110 to 115, that was it.”
Said Eiland: “You have to look at the big picture and not the small one, get caught up in everything that’s going on out there. That’s our job to make those tough calls. It’s for the betterment of him and the betterment of the team. CC would have fought us on it, but he would have understood. I think anyone with any baseball sense would have understood.”
As this game was progressing, I couldn't help but flash back to a game started by David Cone.
It was Cone's first start back with the Yankees in September of 1996 after undergoing surgery to repair an aneurysm.
Cone pitched seven no-hit innings in that game, but rather than let him go back out for the eighth and further stress that surgically repaired shoulder, Joe Torre lifted Cone. It was the right move. The moment would have been great, but at what cost? To have let Cone continue would have been a big, foolish gamble.
The key here that this was Sabathia second start of the season. While he's certainly strong enough to go deep into games, his arm strength is not 100 percent. Very few pitchers are at this point. So why risk it? Especially with a guy who is as important to the Yankees as Sabathia.
So if Sabathia had gotten Shoppach it would have been a great moment -- and I would have been celebrating the accomplishment. But I'd also be worrying, wondering how Sabathia would fare in his next few starts if he finished at 125 pitches. And we would have been killing Girardi if Sabathia came down with a sore arm afterward.
Thank goodness we won't have to find out. Let's just enjoy this win and try to escape Tampa today with a series victory.
Today at Rays, 1:40 p.m., YES
A.J. Burnett (0-0, 5.40 ERA) vs. James Shields (0-0, 4.50)