Yankees’ CC Sabathia on the Rays: 'There’s no love lost’

Tuesday’s benches-clearing incident was the latest as Sabathia has had repeated issues with Rays over the past year.
Yankees lefty CC Sabathia was firing pitches and words at the Rays in the July 16, 2019 game. [KATHY WILLENS | Associated Press]
Yankees lefty CC Sabathia was firing pitches and words at the Rays in the July 16, 2019 game. [KATHY WILLENS | Associated Press]
Published July 17

NEW YORK — Just over a minute into his Tuesday postgame interview, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia finally came out and said what has seemed obvious for a year now about him and the Rays:

“There’s no love lost.”

The source of that scorn remains a mystery, whether it’s personal, organizational or deeper. (Maybe it’s just that traffic getting to the Trop for weeknight games.) The veteran lefty, who is retiring after this season, declined to elaborate, and wasn’t available Wednesday.

But his feelings have certainly been made clear. Once again Tuesday, when what seemed like an innocuous strikeout of Avisail Garcia, to end Sabathia’s sixth and final inning, turned into the latest thing between him and the Rays. It was at least the fourth incident since September.

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As Sabathia was walking off the field he was yelling and kept looking back at Garcia. They started staring and then jawing, initially over who was talking to who, with Sabathia clearly the provocateur. Both benches and bullpens emptied. Garcia eventually took a couple steps toward Sabathia, who had to restrained by Didi Gregorius, which was a test of the wiry shortstop’s strength. There appeared to be no more than mild jostling among the others.

Sabathia claimed it was “a misunderstanding,” and on Garcia’s part.

That while he was yelling in the direction of Garcia, he wasn’t actually yelling at him, which apparently Garcia was supposed to know.

“I was just yelling out, like kinda pumping myself up,” said Sabathia. “He might have took offense to it. It is what it is. I’m never going to back down. So it is what it is.”

Garcia said he didn’t know what was happening, especially why Sabathia was worked up, and definitely didn’t initiate the conversation or provoke him.

“I didn’t say anything,” said Garcia. “He got hot for no reason.”

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But, according to Sabathia, Garcia responded at some point, and, then, well, that was it.

“He felt like I said something. Whatever,” Sabathia said. “I wasn’t talking to him. He looked up at me and said something. And it was on.”

Garcia, who seems very much the non-confrontational type, said over and over there was “no reason” for the incident. He had no more clarity Wednesday.

“I’m a guy that doesn’t like problems,” Garcia said. “I respect him. (He’s a) good competitor. And nothing happened. So that’s it.”

Rays shortstop Willy Adames pointed — though didn’t dare look — at Sabathia as the instigator.

“He stares at people, and if you stare back at him, I think he gets mad,” Adames said. “It’s been like that with us since last year. … He’s a veteran guy, and I think he just thinks nobody can stare at him.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash downplayed the incident after the game, as is his wont, saying it was just a product of the competition. Cash, who played briefly on the 2009 Yankees with Sabathia, said he had no idea what issues the soon-to-be 39-year-old had with the Rays.

“They’re a really good team. We’re a really good team. Sometimes when you play each other in a lot of tight games emotions come out, intensity comes out,’’ Cash said. “And I think that’s what we’ve seen from two talented teams.’’

Sabathia could have had an ulterior motive, trying to fire up his team that was down 3-1 at the time. The Yankees then closed to the gap to 3-2 in that inning and scored six two innings later to win it, 8-3.

“I would like to say they responded good,” Sabathia said. “Fired up. Got the run the next inning and came back to win.”

But that doesn’t explain Sabathia’s full incident log.

Last September, Sabathia was ejected from a game for hitting then-Rays catcher Jesus Sucre in retaliation for the Rays throwing earlier at a Yankees hitter. (Sabathia did so at the risk of coming up just short of a $500,000 innings bonus the Yankees paid him anyway.)

As Sabathia walked off the mound in that Sept. 27 game at the Trop he glared and pointed into the Rays dugout, yelling “That’s for you, (expletive),” then grabbed his crotch.

During a series in May at the Trop, Sabathia popped off about the Rays hitting Yankees batters, saying it was “stupid” and “it’s just the same thing.”

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When the teams met a week later in New York, Sabathia admitted throwing at Rays outfielder Austin Meadows and was caught on camera saying, “I definitely was trying to hit his (expletive).” (In the May 19 finale of that series, two Rays, Yandy Diaz and Daniel Robertson, were hit by other Yankees pitchers, and Diaz said he felt intentionally.)

So what, Sabathia was asked after Tuesday’s game, does he think overall of the Rays, who the Yankees will face only one more time in the regular season anyway, on Sept. 24-25 at the Trop.

“It’s a good team,” he said. “They are really good. They’re right there with us. We’re battling for the division, so all the games are gonna be intense.”

Just not with any love.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.