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A brief history of the Yankees/Rays rivalry

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What brought these two teams to such a high-tension game on Tuesday?

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

To say tension escalated yesterday between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees would be an understatement. The incident peaked with a 101 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman that somehow avoided Mike Brosseau’s head, for which Chapman has now been suspended. I’m very glad that pitch missed, because it’s no joke to be hit in the head with a baseball at any velocity, much less 101 mph.

Before we get to the tipping point we need to look at the context.

(For a slick tool to help see the context, check out Dom’s Yankees-Rays visualization tool.)

Tuesday Night

In the first inning Yankee’s starter Masahiro Tanaka purposefully threw at Joey Wendle not once but twice. He succeeded in his second attempt, but these are the two pitches in question.

The first pitch went directly for Wendle’s knees, but he was able to get out of the way. The second pitch hit him square in the side. It wasn’t a dirty way to hit a batter if you’re going to do that, but this practice has to end. Pitchers miss their location by multiple feet all the time, hitting batters when they’re not trying to. There is no “safe” way to do it. A miss in the wrong place can end somebody’s career or even their life. So throwing at hitters on purpose can not be tolerated (note that Tanaka was not suspended for this one).

Wendle laughed it off as he went to first base.

The chatter and the chirping that you’ve heard from the Yankees dugout all year stems from the Rays willingmess to throw high and inside to Yankees hitters this year. DJ LeMahieu saw an up and in fastball from Diego Castillo in the ninth inning of Monday night’s game. Castillo threw a 96 mph fastball that was high and inside to LeMahieu. It definitely wasn’t a comfortable pitch, as it was high, but it wasn’t actually all that far inside. This isn’t all that different than how pitchers attack Yandy Diaz at the plate. Both hitters have opposite field approaches, and are very adept at lining the ball the other way, so pitchers bring the ball up and in hard, where that’s difficult to do.

Dominik Vega

It’s not fun to get a pitch going nearly 100 miles per hour up and in. Even if it doesn’t actually come close to your head it can feel like it in the moment, so one can understand why LeMahieu was upset. But there’s nothing wrong with this pitch. You have to own the inside of the plate against LeMahieu or he’s going to dive out over the plate and your sliders won’t be effective.

If it ended with Wendle getting hit, things wouldn’t have escalated to the point they did. There might have been some mild comments post game calling out Tanaka for purposefully throwing at Wendle, but I’m not even sure that would have happened.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Aroldis Chapman entered the game. He has a history of being wild and Tuesday night was no exception. He sent both Wendle and Austin Meadows ducking with fastballs that came up and in. Then the breaking point was when Brosseau was almost hit in the ear by a 101 mph.

It was terrible timing to purposely hit somebody — with a two run lead, that brought the tying run to the plate when Chapman’s team needs the win. I’d like to think this wasn’t on purpose, but Chapman and the Yankee’s track record makes one at least wonder.

Kevin Cash got himself ejected and went off in his post game press conference. Cash called out the Yankees players, coaches, and umpires. He ended with a threat.

Cash rightfully received a fine and a suspension for these comments, as I’m sure he understood and intended. Hopefully this deescalates the situation and nothing happens tonight, and the Rays seem to have decided to take that approach. But I’m sure the Rays won’t back down if something does happen. This game is a powder keg.

September 27, 2018 — CC Sabathia Ejected in Final MLB Start

One of the big takeaways from the quote is that Cash said “other than three years ago” when talking about throwing at Yankees batters on purpose. Most people I’ve seen have assumed that Cash counted years wrong and that this meant the Andrew Kittredge pitch above the head of Andrew Romine in September 2018. Darby Robinson wrote about it at the time.

Earlier in the game CC Sabathia hit Jake Bauers in the hand on a pitch that was up and in. I don’t believe this was on purpose. Sometimes players are going to get hit when you’re pitching inside and this is just one of those times.

But after Kittredge hit Romine, Sabbathia took offense and hit Jesus Sucre with the first pitch seen in the Rays next plate appearance. Sabbathia yelled, “That’s for you, bitch” as he walked off a major league field for his final time as a pitcher.

In the post game Kittredge talked about missing up and in and said, “it is what it is.” Basically he answered with the standard non-answer when asked if you purposefully threw at a hitter. Kittredge ended up with a three game suspension. Somehow, strangely, this has entered the collective memory as Kittredge admitting to throwing at a player intentionally.

But this is not the game that I believe Cash referenced when he said three years ago.

May 20, 2017 — Matt Andriese Ejected After Hitting Aaron Judge.

In the fifth inning of the game Yankee’s pitcher Tommy Lahne hit Corey Dickerson with a pitch up and in that was going straight for his head, but fortunately was deflected by Dickerson’s shoulder.

The very next pitch Andriese threw was this pitch to Aaron Judge. Hits him square in the hip. There is no doubt that this was on purpose and Andriese rightfully was ejected from the game.

This is the pitch Cash was referring to. It was clearly intentional retaliation for a wild HBP by Lahne. It is the equivalent of Tanaka’s beaning of Wendle, except that Tanaka was retaliating for a pitch that didn’t hit anyone, and also was neither ejected nor suspended.

Conclusion

After the game, things escalated as Brosseau was headed back to the dugout. Brosseau was walking away when he heard the chirping from the Yankees side of the field and stopped. The benches and bullpens cleared, and the Yankees came streaming over to the Rays side of the field.

I guess you have to talk when you picked up only your second win in nine tries against a divisional opponent, but this is prohibited due to the COVID regulations on altercations. The ensuing suspensions were three games for Chapman, and one each for both managers, Boone and Cash.

After the game Kevin Kiermaier called out the Yankee’s third base coach Phil Nevin as the instigator, and if this is true he should also have receive a suspension for escalating the situation. And if Joe Kelly received an eight game suspension for not hitting an Astros batter, the I’m not sure why Chapman only got three.

And the only beaning that was clearly intentional last night was Tanaka’s of Wendle. I do not understand how he avoided missing a start.

Hopefully nobody is hit tonight, but if it does expect sparks to fly as nobody is going to have the benefit of the doubt that it was an accident.