You don't get to be the kind of pitcher CC Sabathia is by backing down from challenges, and it's probably safe to assume that the Yankees' ace was not in agreement with Joe Girardi's decision to walk Sean Rodriguez, a career .229 hitter with all of 22 lifetime home runs, to pitch to slugger Carlos Pena with the bases loaded in the first inning of today's game against the Rays.
But this is why you should never assume anything. Sabathia, who wound up surrendering a monster grand slam to Pena on a 3-2 pitch had no second thoughts about the decision -- which Girardi said was based on Rodriguez's and Pena's respective career numbers vs. CC -- only his own execution.
"I had no idea,'' Sabathia said of the numbers which had righty Rodriguez hitting .286 against him and lefty Pena a mere .114. "I knew I had some success off (Pena), and it’s a lefty so I felt like it was the right move. If I make the right pitches then we get out of it and we've got nothing to talk about.''
Sabathia, who struggled with command of his fastball in spring training, fell victim to that same lack of command to Pena today. "I wanted it down and away, but I put the fastball right over the plate,'' Sabathia said. "That’s right in his zone, right where he likes the ball, and he did what he does with those pitches.''
Sabathia was never quite right all day but did settle down after that shot, allowing six more hits but only one run, on Evan Longoria's solo home run in the third. He also used his slider effectively, striking out seven in six innings, including Pena the next two times he faced him and Matt Joyce three times.
"It was fastball command, again,'' he said. "But it got better later so I can take something from that and work in the bullpen and be ready to go four days from now.''