ST. PETERSBURG — Stepping into the batter's box with two outs in the eighth inning Saturday, the amber zero still burning bright under his Rays' hit total on the Tropicana Field scoreboard, Kelly Shoppach knew what was supposed to happen.
He was the Ray who had been teammates and friends with CC Sabathia in Cleveland. He was the one who had caught him in 10 games and countless bullpens over their three seasons. And he was the one who was going to break up Sabathia's no-hitter, which he did with a line drive to left.
"I thought it was beautiful," Shoppach said. "Just the history. I thought if anybody was to do it, it was supposed to be me."
Because he did, the Rays' 10-0 loss to the Yankees was just a loss, albeit an ugly one on national TV that dropped their record to 3-2, and not another snippet of history; as when they were no-hit by Boston's Derek Lowe in 2002 and perfect-gamed by Chicago's Mark Buehrle last July.
(Though Yankees manager Joe Girardi could have made it memorable in another way if he actually did what he said he planned, which was to pull Sabathia after he faced Shoppach even if the no-hitter was intact because he approached their max 115-pitch limit.)
Sabathia, the Yankees' 6-foot-7, 290-pound (at least) giant of an ace, was dazzling, commanding his fastball and pounding the strike zone, leaving more than a couple of Rays convinced it was the best they'd seen him.
"He was as tough as it looked," manager Joe Maddon said.
"When guys like that have the stuff like he had," said current Rays and former Indians hitting coach Derek Shelton, "it's one of those days."
Leadoff man Jason Bartlett went back to the dugout after flying out in the first and announced: "Hey, he's got some giddy-up today."
But they couldn't really do anything about it — not only with their bats, but whatever else they tried.
"We were talking about it all the time. We were trying to jinx him," Bartlett said. "We've had it done to us before, and it's not a good feeling. We still see replays of it now. So I'm glad Shoppy got it down. … We were relieved."
As good as Sabathia was, he had help. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez made a very good play to deny Evan Longoria in the second. First baseman Mark Teixiera dived fully extended to snare Bartlett's drive in the sixth. And A-Rod made an even better diving play to rob B.J. Upton in the seventh.
"After Al made that play, everyone was fired up," said Sabathia, who retired the Rays' first 12 hitters. "And I came in the dugout, and I said, 'I've got a pretty good chance here.' "
He came close, most of the Trop crowd of 29,892 roaring for him it seemed. He got the first out of the eighth when second baseman Robinson Cano scooped up Willy Aybar's bouncer that went off Sabathia's bare left hand and the next on Pat Burrell's fly to center (with only two walks marring a perfect game).
Then Shoppach strode to the plate trying to catch his old friend's eye.
"I tried to break his concentration all game," he said. "But he was focused."
Shoppach swung at a strike then lined a fastball to left, the ball landing cleanly in front of Brett Gardner, just the fourth ball the Rays hit out of the infield. When he got to first, he knew, even before Texieira teased him that "You broke up your buddy's no-hitter," he had Sabathia's attention.
"I just looked at him. He looked at me. We kind of gave each other a smile. It was pretty cool," Sabathia said. "I'll be talking to him probably tomorrow."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org