But as Girardi sat on the same bench where he watched Kelly Shoppach shatter that dream with an eighth-inning single, the Yankees manager was sticking by his original statements -- at 111 pitches, Dave Robertson was coming in to face the next Rays hitter, no matter what.
"I've got to do what I believe is right for CC and this organization," Girardi said. "I would have been booed here -- on the road. But that's part of the decisions that you have to make as a manager.
"You can't be short-sighted. You focus on winning the game that day, but you can't be short-sighted on someone's health and the long-term effect that it has on your organization."
Sabathia's pre-determined leash was going to be 120 pitches at the absolute maximum, and more likely between 110 and 115 for his second start of the year.
It would not have been an issue later in the season for Sabathia, one of the game's great workhorses, but pushing him to the neighborhood of 130 pitches so early is not something Girardi or pitching coach Dave Eiland was willing to do.
"He did a fantastic job, obviously," Eiland said. "But what happens if, in five days or a week, he was sore? We'd be kicking ourselves. No matter what, he was coming out, even if he'd struck [Shoppach] out."
Sabathia threw only 104 pitches in his April 4 start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, and the Yankees managed the ace lefty's first couple of starts in 2009, as well.
After tossing 96 pitches on Opening Day last year at Baltimore, Sabathia threw 108 pitches in his second start before being let loose for 122 pitches in his third start, the Yankee Stadium opener.
Girardi said that he didn't think Sabathia would be elated if he had to give the ball up with a no-hitter intact, but the manager believed Sabathia's statement that he would have been OK with the decision.
"CC's respectful," Girardi said. "I really think he understands that to send him out there for the ninth, if he throws 20 or 25 pitches and he's not the same pitcher the whole year, you're going to question yourself. It would hurt us."