ST. PETERSBURG — The most interesting element in the Rays' 12-1 loss Thursday was the colorful way Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia protected his teammates — in words and actions.
Retaliating for Rays RHP Andrew Kittredge throwing a pitch too high and behind C Austin Romine (a badly executed retaliation attempt for prior Yankee misdeeds), Sabathia hit C Jesus Sucre to open the sixth and, since warnings had been issued, was immediately ejected.
Sabathia glared and then pointed into the Rays dugout, yelling "That's for you, b- - - -," then grabbing his crotch as he headed off the field. In doing so, Sabathia seemingly sacrificed a $500,000 incentive bonus he would have gotten (in addition to his $10 million salary) had he thrown two more innings, giving him 155 for the season.
"It is what it is,'' said Sabathia, 38, claiming not to remember what he said or to whom. "They did what they did. And whatever happened after that … I don't really make decisions based on money I guess. Just felt like it was the right thing to do."
Interestingly, though not surprisingly given the baseball code, none of a half-dozen Rays asked said they saw or heard Sabathia's reaction, which in a way might have been tacit approval.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he also didn't notice Sabathia's actions and that the exchanges were "probably a bunch of people protecting teammates more than anything. There's not a ton to say. It looked like there was some intent there, but that's not for me to decide.''
Kittredge seemed to be retaliating for Sabathia hitting 1B Jake Bauers the previous inning, but it might have gone back further, to CF Kevin Kiermaier getting his right foot broken by a pitch Wednesday or even to red-hot Tommy Pham getting drilled Tuesday by RHP Luis Severino, who typically doesn't throw inside.
The issue clearly was Kittredge's bad execution in trying to do so, angering the Yankees for throwing near Romine's head.
Admittedly "fuming,'' Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, "There's no question there was intent. You've had some guys hit this series, and then … you throw one over the head. I think just kick rocks. I hated it. … If you're going to play that game and you start messing around with people's heads, we're going to take exception to that."
Kittredge, who spent the year bouncing between Triple A and the majors, didn't have much to say after being thrust into the media spotlight: "Just baseball, y'know. I don't really have a comment, I'm just trying to do my job and today obviously didn't do a very good job of it."
Sucre, who paid the price of a 92 mph fastball (interestingly, Sabathia's hardest pitch of the day) in his left thigh, was upset to be put in the line of fire.
"I don't want to talk about it,'' Sucre said. "You can go ask the manager or somebody else. You can go and ask (Kittredge), he's the one that decided to do it.''
And Rays veteran OF Carlos Gomez, who has been hit an AL-most 21 times, noted: "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. That's how the game is supposed to be played. You protect your guys, they're going to protect you.''
Power of the Cron
The Rays were down 11-0 before something good happened for them: DH/1B C.J. Cron hit his 29th homer, giving him three games (and at least two starts against Toronto lefties) to become the ninth player in team history to hit 30 in a season. "It's closer,'' Cron said. Opener RHP Jaime Schultz put the Rays in a 4-0 first-inning hole, then RHP Austin Pruitt allowed three runs and RHP Andrew Kittredge four. The Rays had only two hits on the day.
Numbers of the day
99; 52 Rays batters hit by pitches (most in majors); batters hit by Rays pitches (third fewest in AL).
• OF Tommy Pham's latest hitting streak ended at 10, but a ninth-inning walk extended his on-base streak to 29 games.
• The Rays enter their final series of the season 88-71, two wins shy of 90 and one from 50 at home.
• The Rays lost the season series to the Yankees 10-9, their fourth year on the short side.
• The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce winners of the team Don Zimmer MVP, outstanding rookie, and champion award at Friday's Clutch Hitters banquet.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays