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CC-Avisail tiff clears benches, bullpens in Bronx

@BryanHoch
July 17, 2019

NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius jogged across the infield and spotted CC Sabathia near the first-base line, jawing toward the Rays' Avisaíl García. The Yankees’ shortstop attempted to save his heated teammate from an ejection, then realized he was going to have to flex some muscle to do so. "It

NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius jogged across the infield and spotted CC Sabathia near the first-base line, jawing toward the Rays' Avisaíl García. The Yankees’ shortstop attempted to save his heated teammate from an ejection, then realized he was going to have to flex some muscle to do so.

"It felt like holding a bear right there," Gregorius said after the Yankees' 8-3 victory at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. "It was a great encounter against a bear."

Sabathia and the Rays have some history, and the American League East rivals added a new installment as both benches and bullpens briefly emptied. Sabathia and Garcia roared at one another following a called third strike on the Rays outfielder that ended the top of the sixth.

As Sabathia walked toward the dugout, he appeared to say something toward Garcia, then gestured with his hands. Standing near home plate, Garcia took a few steps toward the veteran hurler, then was held back by third-base coach Rodney Linares.

"Honestly, I think it was a misunderstanding," Sabathia said. "I wasn’t talking to him. He looked up at me and said something, and it was on. … I was just yelling out, pumping myself up. He might have taken offense to it, but I am never going to back down. It is what it is."

“I didn’t say anything," Garcia said. "I respect him. He's a good competitor, and it’s fun to face him. I respect him, so I don’t have anything to say. It was for no reason. He was trying to do his job, I was trying to do my job, so there’s no problem at all.”

Sabathia, who pitched six innings of three-run ball in a no-decision, said he did not realize it was Gregorius who was attempting to hold him back. Gregorius said that somebody elbowed him in the chin during the skirmish but said he was fine.

"He told me he was tired from holding me back," Sabathia said. "I didn’t know he was that strong."

Both clubs were warned by the umpiring crew. Yankees manager Aaron Boone shrugged off the encounter, saying that Sabathia "runs a little hot."

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash responded similarly, saying, "Just two guys, two teams that are competing at a high intensity. Both competitors. Sometimes that happens.”

But the Rays' Willy Adames did not seem impressed by Sabathia's outburst.

“He’s been like that with us since last year. I don’t know," Adames said. "He’s a veteran guy, and I think he thinks that nobody can stare at him. But I think you have to respect each other. If you’re looking for respect, you have to respect the others.”

With on-field order restored, the relievers had to make the long walk to their respective bullpens. Garcia heard jeers from the seats as he took right field in the home half of the inning, then watched DJ LeMahieu's homer sail over his head to trim Tampa Bay's lead to a run.

Aaron Judge hit a go-ahead two-run homer as part of a six-run eighth inning, which included Gregorius' fourth career grand slam.

"CC is our leader. We've always got his back, no matter what," Judge said. "I didn't really know what was going on when I ran in, but something happened. We fed off that; it kind of fired us up a little bit."

Boone said that his club didn't need extra-curriculars to create a spark.

“I think we’re always pretty lit," Boone said. "We’re playing in this place, we know who we’re up against. I don’t think we needed any extra motivation. I mean, we’ll take it, but I don’t think that played into that.”

Last season, Sabathia was ejected from a Sept. 27 game at Tropicana Field after drilling Tampa Bay catcher Jesus Sucre in response to an earlier Andrew Kittredge pitch that buzzed Bombers backstop Austin Romine.

For his actions in that game, Sabathia received an undisclosed fine and a five-game suspension, which he served at the beginning of the 2019 season.

"Last year's [incident] wasn’t my fault," Sabathia said. "Like I said, it’s two good teams battling for the division. The games are going to be intense. There's no love lost, so it is what it is."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.