Drama? Action? Stage set for Yanks-Rays
San Diego conjures images of laid-back surf and perpetual sunshine, but the Yankees and Rays will bring East Coast grit as they invade the Gaslamp Quarter for the upcoming American League Division Series, pitting the “savages in the box” against a “whole damn stable of guys that throw 98.”
The ongoing war of words between the AL East rivals has provided inspiration for any number of PG-13 T-shirts over the years, and the stakes have never been higher for two talented clubs that will not be exchanging Christmas gifts in the foreseeable future.
“They won the division, so they've got that,” said Yankees designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton. “The full bragging rights chance is here. Shirts and hats, that doesn't mean anything.”
The Yankees were in high spirits on Thursday, working out at Progressive Field hours before boarding a jet for California. Stanton and his teammates remained in the afterglow of an epic 10-9 victory over the Indians that -- at four hours and 50 minutes -- was the longest nine-inning contest ever played on a Major League field.
“That game,” said manager Aaron Boone, who compared the clash to his own club’s 2003 triumph over the Red Sox to claim the AL pennant. “Just stepping away from it, there were just so many amazing things that happened. I’ll probably think of that game in those terms for a long time.”
In Boone’s view, the Yankees' AL Wild Card Series sweep of Cleveland proved that they can master top-tier pitching in unfamiliar surroundings, which they had not displayed convincingly during the regular season.
Boone acknowledged the challenges that Tampa Bay’s trio of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton are likely to present in a best-of-five series, but after spanking likely AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber for seven runs in Game 1, the Yankees’ hitters will hardly be quivering as they inhale their scouting reports over America’s heartland.
“It’s going to be power versus power,” Stanton said. “We’ve got to have good at-bats, wear them down from the top to the bottom of our lineup and force them to make a mistake.”
There is no disputing that the Rays had the Yankees’ number during the short season, taking eight of their 10 meetings -- a huge factor in why Tampa Bay (40-20) claimed the division crown over New York (33-27) in a race that featured spicy episodes of extracurricular activity.
“We’re clearly the underdog now,” Boone said, with a wink. “They’re the big, bad No. 1 seed of the AL East.”
When we last saw the clubs on the field, both managers were banished from their respective dugouts for a Sept. 2 game at Yankee Stadium, the fallout from an incident the evening prior in which Aroldis Chapman buzzed a 101 mph fastball over the head of batter Mike Brosseau.
Chapman insisted that there was no intent behind the pitch, though the Yankees had fumed over numerous high-and-tight pitches to Bombers hitters, counting four to eventual AL batting champ DJ LeMahieu alone. Chapman received a three-game suspension that is still under appeal.
Rays manager Kevin Cash had unloaded in a fiery postgame address, prompting LeMahieu to coolly quip: “It sounds like they’re going to throw at us. We’ll be ready.”
Brosseau exacted revenge the next night with a home run off Jordan Montgomery, after which Tampa Bay bench coach Matt Quattro claimed some in uniform “had tears in our eyes.” The Yankees say, to a man, that it’s all in the past and they’re focused on playing winning baseball. But that’s essentially what CC Sabathia always said, too.
“They’re going to try to do what they have to do to make us uncomfortable,” hitting coach Marcus Thames said on Thursday. “I think we have to do the same thing as hitters. If that’s their game plan, good luck to them. I don’t think they can pitch in for strikes.”
There’s a hackneyed joke that San Diego’s meteorologists have it easy: just point to a green screen and predict that there will be sunshine and gentle breezes. Sure, anything can happen in a best-of-five series, but this is the simple part to forecast: hide the remote and buckle up; this one is guaranteed to get wild.
“That’s the entertainment business of it,” Stanton said. “It’s going to be a good fight. We’re taking this East Coast battle to the West Coast now.”