It should have been a good day for the Yankees: a rare win against the Rays, excellent performances from DJ LeMahieu and Clint Frazier, and a general sense that once they get going, they’ll be able to reclaim the top spot in the American League East.
Instead it was ugly. It was angry. It was downright dangerous.
It began with two outs in the ninth, when Aroldis Chapman’s 100.5-mph fastball whizzed by Mike Brosseau’s head — close enough to spark fear and, with the bad blood festering between the teams, questionable enough to have the umpires warn both benches. It continued minutes later, when Rays manager Kevin Cash took Chapman’s possible threat and retaliated with an undeniable one of his own.
“We're talking about a 100-mph fastball over a young man's head, and it makes no sense,” an incensed Cash said. “It's poor judgment, poor coaching. It's just poor teaching what they're doing and what they're allowing [players] to do — the chirping from the dugout — I can assure you, other than three years ago, there hasn't been one pitch thrown with intent from any of our guys, period. Somebody's got to be accountable. And the last thing I'll say on it is, I got a whole [expletive] stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour. Period.”
Chapman was not made available to answer questions after the game.
Said Aaron Boone, who was read the comments live during his postgame news conference “[Those are] pretty scary comments. Yeah, I don’t think that’s right at all, but I’m not going to get into it right now.”
And though the Yankees won, 5-3, at Yankee Stadium Tuesday, what will instead be remembered when the teams meet again Wednesday and possibly again in October is the escalating feud that boiled over after the final out was recorded. The Yankees have had issues with Rays pitchers throwing up and in, and certainly have cause for frustration, having gone into the game 1-7 against them this season.
The Rays, according to Cash’s postgame comments, believed Masahiro Tanaka intentionally hit Joey Wendle in the ribs with a 95-mph fastball in the first inning. By the time Chapman nearly grazed Brosseau, they’d had enough. After the final out — Brosseau struck out and Chapman stared him down, as he always does after a final out — both benches cleared, though neither team made physical contact with the other. Cash was ejected.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It was mishandled by the Yankees, certainly the pitcher on the mound, it was mishandled by the umpires.”
Brosseau said he wasn’t sure if it was intentional, but that the two teams have been “jawing back and forth” all year. “If anyone wants to talk about the unwritten rules of baseball and sending a message, I believe that was done in the first inning with Joey. The usual protocol if that happens is you get the message and you move on. As far as if there was actual intent behind Chapman's delivery, I'm not really sure but pretty frustrating honestly.”
Before hearing Cash’s comments, Boone said he didn’t think there would be retaliation Wednesday. After he heard the comments, he acknowledged there might be.
“Maybe based on those comments and if it gets inflamed anymore, I guess it’s possible, yes,” he said.
Added LeMahieu: "The comments from the manager, those made the rounds pretty quick in our clubhouse. I would say it's a pretty serious threat . . . It sounds like they're going to try to throw at us tomorrow. We'll be ready."
The late-game theatrics overshadowed a number of positives for the Yankees. LeMahieu hit two home runs, Frazier made a spectacular catch in the outfield and was imperative in scoring the winning runs, and Tanaka made just one mistake in his longest outing of the year. He pitched six innings, allowing three hits, and two runs, both scored on Kevin Kiermaier’s fifth-inning homer.
The Yankees, who came into the game 3-7 in their last 10, will now try to win their first series against the Rays in particularly trying circumstances.
“They’re upset with us,” Boone said before he heard Cash’s statements. “I understand that it can be scary when you get [a pitch near your guy . . . You just don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”