CC Sabathia has set the tone for this AL East race: ‘It’s personal’

It was Kendrys Morales 1, Willy Adames 1 when CC Sabathia struck out Brandon Lowe with his 84th and final pitch in his sixth and final inning and cursed and raged at the Rays dugout before walking off the mound.

It would have been a shame had he been the lone lion wearing pinstripes.

But then his teammates, starting with Luke Voit and ending with — who else? — Gio Urshela summoned the same kind of fire and fury with the dramatic three-run ninth-inning rally for a stirring 4-3 comeback win, and a place in first place.

Sabathia was in the clubhouse watching on television when Urshela cracked the game-winning two-out single off Jose Alvarado. Asked what he was thinking as the comeback was unfolding, Sabathia said: “We got this. Especially when Gio came up. I said, ‘Turn out the lights.’ ”

He was smiling now.

“Anytime you can get fired up and get a big win, it means a lot , yeah,” Sabathia said.

I said to him: Nobody was more fired up than you.

“Yeah. We’re playing big games,” he said.

Earlier, he had downplayed any carryover from last weekend’s series.

I asked him: Nothing personal with the other team?

“I mean I’m trying to win. Hell yeah it’s personal. Everything about it’s personal,” he said.

Much earlier, he seemed to try to ratchet up hostilities in this mushrooming rivalry by himself, hurling inside low and inside purpose pitches at Austin Meadows while wearing a Bernard King game face from start to finish.

Sabathia was out of sight and probably still out of his mind as Chad Green gave up the ghost in the eighth and Yankees bats stayed silent until the ninth.

When Voit led off with a home run off Alvarado.

When Gary Sanchez lined a single.

When Gleyber Torres doubled pinch-runner Thairo Estrada to third. When Alvarado wild-pitched Estrada home. 

When the irrepressible Urshela won it with two outs, and the sounds of euphoria could be heard from outside the doors to the clubhouse.

“He’s been the MVP of this team so far,” Sabathia said.

The MVP of this team is, of course, a babe in these rivalry woods.

“That was very fun for me and for the team too,” Urshela said.

Sabathia’s feud with the Rays dates back to the end of last season, when he was ejected, fined $500,000 and suspended five games for hitting Jesus Sucre on the leg in retaliation for Andrew Kittredge throwing a 93 mph fastball near Austin Romine’s head. All this after Sabathia had hit Jake Bauers. Then Voit was plunked on the shoulder last weekend at Tampa Bay by Yonny Chirinos following a DJ LeMahieu home run.

“He gets between the lines, he’s an awesome competitor. He went out and set the tone really well to start the series,” Aaron Boone said.

Asked if he yelled anything at the Rays dugout, Sabathia said: “Yeah probably, but I don’t remember what I said.”

Romine, for one, didn’t subscribe to any bad blood theory.

“I was the guy that had the ball thrown over my head last year, so I get it,” Romine said. “But baseball’s baseball. They’re trying to take care of their players, we’re trying to take care of ours. I was raised old-school, and that’s how it is.”

Sabathia was raised the same way, but he clearly doesn’t forgive and forget as fast. He doesn’t care much for the personal accolades, not even reaching the 3,000 strikeout milestone, not even as he remains two wins from his 250th. He wants that second Yankees ring.

And he sure doesn’t want the Rays standing between him and a Canyon of Heroes parade. It’s looking more and more like Gio Urshela just might help him get there.

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