Yanks-Rays tensions flare after Arozarena gets drilled

August 27th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Facing each other for the final time this season, the Rays and Yankees’ heated rivalry reignited near the end of Tampa Bay’s 7-4 win Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Yankees reliever began the eighth inning by hitting All-Star outfielder with a 95.5 mph sinker, the second time this year that Abreu has plunked Arozarena. It was also the fourth time in Sunday’s game, the fifth time in this three-game series and the 12th time this year that a Rays hitter was hit by a pitch from the Yankees, while Tampa Bay hit New York twice in 13 games this season.

Abreu’s plunking of Arozarena sparked two benches-clearing incidents in the eighth. Arozarena said he thought it was intentional, while Abreu and Yankees manager Aaron Boone said none of the hit-by-pitches were on purpose. There were no ejections or punches thrown during either scrum.

“I don't know why. It just seems like they always want to hit Randy,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “It's just a coincidence that it's the same pitcher that hit me the last time.”

There is a lot of history and animosity between the American League East rivals, specifically over inside pitches, a feud that peaked when Aroldis Chapman threw over Mike Brosseau’s head during the 2020 season.

In Friday night’s series opener, Yankees reliever Jonathan Loáisiga hit All-Star infielder Yandy Díaz in the left forearm with a fastball. Díaz said afterward he didn’t think it was intentional, but he was clearly upset as he walked to first base. It also had a lasting impact, as Díaz wasn’t able to play Saturday or Sunday.

“They've had a few guys hit this series, so I get it, especially Díaz being out right now,” Boone said. “I get the frustration, but nothing is happening on purpose. Obviously, some tempers got going.”

On Sunday, three Yankees pitchers hit Rays batters. A Carlos Rodón slider caught Osleivis Basabe in the first inning, then Tampa Bay was particularly upset when reliever Ian Hamilton ran a first-pitch 95 mph sinker up and in that bounced off Isaac Paredes’ batting helmet, just behind his ear, in the fifth.

Paredes remained in the game, was checked by doctors and said he felt good after the game. Hamilton said he was just trying to throw a two-seamer inside and “definitely” not trying to hit Paredes, even saying, “My fault,” as Paredes walked down the line. But several Rays pointed to that as a “scary” moment that heightened their awareness of the unbalanced hit-by-pitch totals.

“It's a scary moment when any player gets hit with a mid-90s fastball and certainly in the head like Isaac did,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Is Hamilton trying to hit him on purpose? No, I'm very confident that he did not. That doesn't make it less scary, though. So to say I had a problem, I would rather my guys not get hit.”

Said Hamilton: “I understand it, but at the same time, if they want to come over here, they can come over here. I wish we had another game against them.”

Asked to clarify why he wanted to again face the Rays, who won the season series, 8-5, Hamilton said, “I think everyone in here wished we had another game against them.”

The Rays, two games behind the Orioles in the AL East standings and already down a number of key players, offered a different perspective.

“[The Yankees are] a last-place team. We don't need to worry about it. We need to focus up on what we need to do down the stretch,” Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “If they lose a guy, it's not going to be quite as big of a deal as if we lose one of our guys. We're focused up on kind of the bigger-picture thing right now.”

Still, the Rays were clearly upset when Arozarena was hit by Abreu in the eighth. He had previously been hit twice by the Yankees after a first-inning homer on May 5, one from Jhony Brito and the other from Abreu. Arozarena immediately gestured toward the mound before both dugouts emptied onto the field.

“It was a 3-1 count. I think it was on purpose. If you look back at previous series, he's hit me before,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “I've been hit in previous years before that. They hurt Yandy the other day. They hit Paredes in the head today, so I think it probably was an issue for them.”

Abreu said he attempted to explain to Arozarena that he wasn’t trying to hit him, but Arozarena reminded him it wasn’t the first time he had done so.

“I definitely don't want to do that. So immediately, things get a little heated and he's kind of accusing me of hitting him,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I'm trying to execute a good sinker in there, especially in that count, trying to get out of that inning and create some weak contact there.”

Arozarena then stole second and third off Abreu, and the two exchanged words again as Arozarena went to retrieve his helmet. Abreu said he was still trying to explain it wasn’t intentional, but Arozarena said he couldn’t hear Abreu. The dugouts emptied again, with the long-running tensions between the clubs clear on both sides.

“I applaud Randy for keeping his emotions just enough in check to where it didn't get out of hand,” Cash said. “They don't like to be hit. No player likes to be hit, and there's a level of frustration there.”

Both dugouts were warned, and the Rays did not retaliate. Will this feud continue? We’ll find out next year.

“I don't know if it'll go on. But I've been here for three years, and if you look at previous videos, we get hit a lot,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “Our job is to just keep [going] out there and just playing baseball. That's what we need to do.”