The bad blood between the Yankees and Rays from 2020 didn’t directly spill over into the team’s first series of 2021 last weekend at Tropicana Field.
At least in terms of any on-field incidents.
But seeds were certainly sewn to the point at which if something like that does take place when the teams begin a three-game series Friday night at the Stadium, no one who’s been paying attention should be shocked.
The teams don't even try to mask their dislike for each other. The Rays, even after beating the Yankees two out of three games in St. Petersburg, couldn’t stop talking about the four hit batsmen they incurred in the series, compared with none for the Yankees.
"With the history, it’s frustrating, very frustrating," Kevin Kiermaier said Monday, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "We’ll see where it goes from here. But I don’t think that was a very good look on their part and we have every right to be very frustrated about what happened throughout the weekend."
Kiermaier, echoing the thoughts of his manager, Kevin Cash, didn’t think there was "intent" in any of the pitches, but that didn’t make it easier to take. Not given what occurred last season, with two incidents still very fresh in the minds of the Rays, both from the same Sept. 1 game at the Stadium.
The most glaring for those wearing Rays uniforms was Aroldis Chapman receiving just a three-game suspension – trimmed to two games on appeal – for throwing a 101 mph fastball behind the head of Mike Brosseau (who got his revenge with an ALDS-deciding homer off Chapman in the eighth inning of Game 5). Earlier in the same Sept. 1 game, Masahiro Tanaka hit Joey Wendle, a pitch the Rays also believe was intentional.
After Sunday’s game, an 8-4 Yankees victory in 10 inningsin which Austin Meadows, who homered Saturday, was hit twice by Jordan Montgomery, Cash criticized MLB for what he called its "gross mishandling" of the situations from last September.
"I know Tanaka is over in Japan, but he got off scot-free," Cash said. "He hit Joey definitely [with intent], and nothing we can do about that…they [MLB] could have done a better job and maybe we’d [have] moved past this."
Cash said later: "Do I personally think the guy [Montgomery] was trying to hit him (Meadows)? I do not. But this continues to roll over. Because it’s just carryover and intent or not, most major league players are going to look at you and say, it doesn’t feel good. Don’t care whether he did it on purpose or not, I don’t like it. And then you add the other element of coming up around the shoulder and the head area, where none of us like that. So I’ll leave it at that."
Yankees-Rays from the beginning has always had a certain intensity because of George Steinbrenner, who made Tampa his adoptive hometown in 1975 and then the spring training home of the Yankees in 1996. The Boss despised losing to the Rays maybe above any other team, including the Red Sox and Mets.
The current bad blood can be traced to a September 2018 game in St. Petersburg when CC Sabathia threw at Jesus Sucre in retaliation for Andrew Kittridge throwing at Austin Romine.
For their part, the Yankees, who have hit 23 Rays batters compared with having 15 of their own hit dating to the 2018 spat, haven’t said much regarding last weekend, other than acknowledging the bad optics of it.
"I get their frustration with that," manager Aaron Boone said. "But that's not for us to get caught up into right now. We’ve got another good team coming into town to kick off a homestand, and it's important that we don't get caught up in that, and we need to go put our best foot forward. That’ll be our focus coming out Friday."