Yankees fall to Jays in tense finish to first clash of '23

April 22nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- No active big leaguer has been hit by more pitches than , whose career tally of 205 has left him well acquainted with the intense feelings that can accompany those bumps, bruises and welts. 

But as he eyed Vladimir Guerrero Jr. staring down rookie during the Yankees’ 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday, the opening chapter of what figures to be another heated rivalry season between the American League East foes, Rizzo delivered a message: “Just walk to first base.”

“He just kept staring at Greg, staring at him, and I took exception to that,” Rizzo said. “He’s not trying to hit him there. We’re not trying to hit him. Just play baseball. I’ve been hit many times in this game. Very rarely have I ever stared at someone when I know absolutely it’s not intentional at all.”

Weissert’s plunking of Guerrero occurred in the ninth inning with the game seemingly decided, a 92.9 mph first-pitch sinker that struck the slugger’s left elbow.

Guerrero, who had homered and singled earlier in the contest, dropped his bat and glared at Weissert; seemingly unaware that Guerrero was focused on him, Weissert received a new ball and pointed his attention toward center field.

“I don’t really know what he was thinking, but obviously I wasn’t trying to hit him,” Weissert said. “I didn’t have my best stuff tonight.”

Rizzo came to his teammate’s defense, drawing Guerrero’s attention along the first-base line. Home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson came between Rizzo and Guerrero, and though both managers briefly appeared on the field and the bullpen gates opened, the situation did not escalate.

“Much ado about nothing,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Blue Jays manager John Schneider echoed similar thoughts, saying that he believed Weissert’s command was off.

"His sinker moves like crazy,” Schneider said. “It's cold. I just think any hitter that gets hit isn't thrilled. It's nothing. He's got a wicked sinker to go with a wicked slider. It probably just got away from him.”

There have been tense exchanges between the Yankees and Blue Jays in recent seasons. The situation was reminiscent of an incident last Aug. 21 when Toronto ace Alek Manoah hit with a pitch, prompting loud jawing from the Yankees’ bench -- especially , who gestured toward the mound.

Manoah would later say that if Cole “wants to do something, he can walk past the Audi sign [sprayed on the grass] next time.” Cole and Manoah, coincidentally, are scheduled to start opposite each other on Saturday.

“They play their game, we play our game,” Rizzo said. “They’re a good team, we’re a good team. I think, naturally, the intensity is always high.”

Weissert appreciated Rizzo’s display, saying: “I think that speaks to the kind of guys we’ve got in this locker room. Everybody’s got each other’s back, and I’m thankful for that.”

The late fireworks added some spice to an otherwise sleepy affair for the home team. hit his first home run of the season to the short porch in right field, but the Bombers’ bats were otherwise kept quiet by Yusei Kikuchi and three relievers.

“We had a couple of chances in there, but otherwise couldn’t muster much,” Boone said. “I thought [Kikuchi] did a pretty good job of mixing.”

Guerrero -- who reiterated before Friday’s game that he relishes playing against the Yankees and would never consider wearing the pinstripes -- provided the necessary margin of victory in the first inning, slugging a hanging Domingo Germán curveball for a two-run homer.

“Following that, I was more consistent and I was able to make some adjustments mechanically that allowed me to go deep into the game,” Germán said through an interpreter. “I definitely felt more consistent executing pitches after that first inning.”

Germán settled in, retiring 12 straight Blue Jays through one stretch, but he surrendered a two-run homer to Brandon Belt in the sixth. Albert Abreu allowed a two-run double to Belt in the eighth, a ball Judge nearly caught.

“We’re kind of grinding right now,” Boone said. “We’re doing a lot of winning things on offense. We’ve got a tough one tomorrow and hopefully we can break out a little bit again.”