The Rays-Yankees rivalry, which has escalated over the past three seasons, reached a heated tipping point at the tail end of New York’s 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
In the first inning, Masahiro Tanaka hit Joey Wendle on a pitch that the Rays believed was clear retaliation for the way they have pitched inside against the Yankees throughout the season, particularly with DJ LeMahieu. On Monday, Diego Castillo threw a pitch inside on LeMahieu, which was received by some chirping from the Yankees’ dugout.
While Wendle said after the game that he was ready to accept that the Yankees were trying to send a message, what transpired in the ninth inning was ultimately what set off the Rays and manager Kevin Cash. Aroldis Chapman, who was making just his fourth appearance of the season after starting the year on the COVID-19 injured list, threw a 101-mph fastball behind the head of Mike Brosseau. After the pitch, home-plate umpire Roberto Ortiz issued warnings to both dugouts. That drew Cash out onto the field, which resulted in an instant ejection.
Following the game, Cash and the Rays players said they were unsure of the intent behind Chapman’s pitch, but that didn’t stop Cash from delivering some strong comments.
“It’s poor judgement, poor coaching, it’s just poor teaching what they’re doing and what they’re allowing to do,” Cash said. “The chirping from the dugout. Somebody needs to tell me, go pull up the numbers, who has hit who more, but I can assure you that other than three years ago, there hasn’t been one pitch thrown with intent from any of our guys. Period. Somebody has to be held accountable. And the last thing I’ll say on it, is that I have a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph. Period.”
After being told of Cash’s comments during his postgame Zoom call, Yankees skipper Aaron Boone said: “Well, that’s pretty scary comments. I don’t think that’s right at all. But I’m not gonna get into that right now.”
LeMahieu added: “The comments from their manager made the rounds pretty quick in our clubhouse. It sounds like, obviously that’s a pretty serious threat. But it is what it is. … It sounds like they're going to try to throw at us tomorrow. We'll be ready.”
There has been no shortage of disagreements between the Rays and Yankees over the last few years, especially in 2020 as both teams battle for the American League East division crown. It began in 2018 when CC Sabathia retaliated by hitting Jesús Sucre after Andrew Kittredge threw at Austin Romine.
In a series at Tropicana Field earlier this season, Boone and hitting coach Marcus Thames were ejected due to frustration about the way the Rays' pitchers were attacking the Yanks hitters. Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge voiced his frustration after that game, while Rays infielder Brandon Lowe called the chirping from the New York side “childish."
“Enough is enough,” Cash said. “It was mishandled by the Yankees. Certainly the pitcher on the mound. It was mishandled by the umpires. They hit Joey Wendle intentionally in the first inning. It was clear as day. Chapman comes in, he throws three different balls up and in. I get it, they don’t like being thrown up and in, but enough is enough.”
Kevin Kiermaier said that he believes the Yankees’ frustration comes from the way the Rays have pitched them and the fact that Tampa Bay is 7-2 against New York this season. Kiermaier also added that Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin has been an instigator through it all.
“It’s a tired act,” Kiermaier said. “A couple of their guys over there, it’s just nonstop. I think this year we have their number and we’ve played well against them and we’ve beaten them time and time again. Maybe that frustrates them. I don’t know. It’s easy to get mad over certain things like that.”
The Yankees, on the other hand, tried to make it clear that Chapman’s pitch wasn’t intentional. There was no word on whether the pitch to Wendle was intentional. Chapman declined to comment through Yankees PR.
“I hope not. What was this, Chappy’s third inning? I mean, he’s working through some rust,” said Yankees reliever Zack Britton. “He didn’t have much of a buildup at all. He’s still not as sharp as he’s going to be, so what they decide to do is on them. We’ll see how it transpires, but I would hope nothing would go further than what it did today.”
Yankees pitchers have hit Rays batters 19 times since 2018. New York pitchers haven't hit any other team's batters that many times during that span. The Rays have hit the Yankees 14 times since ‘18, which is fewer times than Tampa Bay pitchers have hit the Red Sox (17) or Blue Jays (15).
Wednesday’s game will be the last in the regular season between the Yankees and Rays. After New York’s win on Tuesday, the Yankees are now 3 1/2 games behind the Rays with a chance to cut the deficit down another game on Wednesday. Cash said that he doesn’t know how Wednesday’s game will transpire, but that his team will be ready to win a third straight series against the Yankees.
“It’s really frustrating, to be honest,” Brosseau said. “It’s not what you want to see coming off the bench. Especially when we pretty much let everything go after Joey took the message for us and he did it like a man. If they want to send another message, I guess they made their point.”