The race between the Yankees and the Rays in the AL East is starting to heat up and the passions that come with that were on full display Tuesday night in the Bronx.
Benches and bullpens emptied as CC Sabathia and Avisail Garcia got into a back-and- forth in the middle of the sixth inning. The Yankees starter had to be held back from going after the Tampa Bay outfielder.
The Yankees then channeled Sabathia’s furor and rallied from a two-run deficit for a 8-3 triumph before 40,401 at the Stadium, halting a streak of three straight losses against Tampa Bay and pushing their lead in the AL East back to six games.
DJ LeMahieu started the comeback with a solo homer after the skirmish and Aaron Judge hit a two-out, two-run home run to pop the cork on a six-run eighth. After Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked to load the bases, Didi Gregorius hit a grand slam out to rightfield, the fifth slam of his career.
Gregorius was in a 1-for-23 slide before the blast and got a Stadium curtain call after it.
“CC is our leader. We’ve always got his back, no matter what,” Judge said. “We fed off that, it kind of fired us up a little bit.”
“I think we’re always pretty lit,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We’re playing in this place, we know who we’re up against, I don’t think we needed any extra motivation [but] I mean, we’ll take it.”
“I would say they responded good, fired up,” Sabathia said. “Got the run the next inning and came back to win.”
The Yankees offensive outburst also pulled the lineup out of stretch of meekness. The Yanks had scored just 13 runs in the previous four games after averaging 5.7 per game going into the All-Star break.
Sabathia finished the Rays’ sixth by getting a called third strike on Garcia. As Sabathia walked toward the first-base dugout he became engaged with Garcia and things got serious. Just after crossing the first-base line Sabathia started toward Garcia at the plate and Gregorius was doing all he could to hold him back in what he later termed “a great encounter with a bear.”
Players flooded out of the dugouts and raced in from the bullpens to create a sort of standoff around home plate before cooler heads prevailed and the game resumed. Before the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the inning, umpires issued warnings to both benches.
“I was just yelling out, pumping myself up. He might have taken offense to it, but I am never going to back down,” Sabathia said. “It is what it is. . . . It’s two good teams battling for the division.”
“Playing for a lot,” Boone said. “Sometimes, he gets a little . . . hot, that’s all. There wasn’t much.”
The skirmish was the final punctuation mark on Sabathia’s evening, one in which he pitched much better than his line of three runs over six innings would indicate. The lefthander threw strikes and worked fast, allowing five hits and no walks, striking out six. He was at peak efficiency in the early going, getting the first nine outs with only 27 pitches.
David Hale was summoned into a bases-loaded situation in the seventh and got Travis d’Arnaud to hit into an inning-ending double play. When he put two runners on in the ninth, Zack Britton came on to get the last two outs on strikeouts.
Edwin Encarnacion also had his third home run in two games, a solo shot for the Yanks’ first run, tying the score at 1. Yandy Diaz hit a two-out solo shot in the fourth to make the score 2-1 and the Rays nearly had back-to-back homers were it not for leftfielder Brett Gardner rising over the wall to bring back a drive by Garcia.
Asked about the catch, Sabathia said “I was fired up. He said, ‘That’s about as far as I can go.’ That was cool.”