Ex-Yankees skipper Joe Girardi fought like hell to choke back tears when talking about CC Sabathia ... and if you're a Bronx Bombers fan, or just someone with a heart, cue the waterworks.

Barring a miracle, Sabathia's career ended Thursday night ... when the 39-year-old star pitcher was forced to leave Game 4 of the Yankees-Astros ALCS game when his knee buckled on the mound. The Yanks are 1 game away from elimination ... and CC's retiring after this season.

So, when former longtime manager Joe Girardi -- who managed CC from 2009-2017 -- was asked to talk about the legendary hurler during his MLB Network TV gig, it got emotional.