As if losing too much to the Rays wasn’t bad enough, the Yankees looked even worse while finally beating them Tuesday night for only the second time in nine tries this season.
One out away from securing a 5-3 victory, and the bases empty, Aroldis Chapman rifled a 101-mph fastball at the head of the Rays’ Mike Brosseau. Not behind his shoulders, not at his hip, not at the knees.
At his head.
Brosseau managed to duck the lethal fastball, then glared at the mound, where Chapman — always an intimidating figure anyway — stared back with a posture that suggested he was more than ready for whatever came next.
This didn’t appear to be an accident. Chapman has his bouts of wildness, sure, but pitchers rarely throw around people’s heads without meaning to. Not at this level. And for anyone who’s closely followed this increasingly bitter Yankees-Rays rivalry over the years, this latest flash point between the two AL East combatants wasn’t really surprising.
The umpires certainly didn’t view that Chapman pitch as a coincidence. After a short huddle, they chose to give a warning to both benches, but did not eject the Yankees’ closer. Rays manager Kevin Cash then ignored the social-distancing protocols to argue with crew chief Chad Fairchild, presumably because he thought Chapman should be bounced.
Once things settled down, Chapman eventually whiffed Brosseau — this time with a 101-mph heater at the top of the strike zone. That ended the game, but not the hostilities. Brosseau turned to start jawing at the Yankees’ bench, and he was soon joined by more Rays as the dugouts and bullpens emptied.
Though that didn’t ignite any physical altercations, a heated Cash threw plenty of verbal haymakers at the Yankees later on. And he swung at everyone in pinstripes, with threatening language that should put the commissioner’s office on alert before these two teams meet in Wednesday’s series finale.
“Somebody's got to be accountable,” Cash said. “And the last thing I'll say on it is, I got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour. Period.”
Cash was furious, and for good reason. Taking that shot, at that time of the game, was a cowardly gesture — not to mention incredibly dangerous to Brosseau. Over on the other side, Yankees manager Aaron Boone proceeded with caution as he was peppered with questions on the matter, but that “stable” line stopped him cold.
“That's pretty scary comments,” Boone said. “I don't think that's right at all.”
Maybe not, but it’s probably going to require MLB’s intervention to put a stop to this escalating feud before people do get hurt. When these teams met three weeks ago at Tropicana Field, Boone and hitting coach Marcus Thames got tossed after the Rays were firing chin-music fastballs at Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu. The next day, the Rays rode James Paxton pretty hard from the dugout on his way off the mound after back-to-back homers by Brosseau and Brandon Lowe.
The fact that Chapman singled out Brosseau this time for target practice may have been related to that episode. But there’s been so much bad blood between these clubs that it’s tough to keep track. CC Sabathia had been the chief antagonist, first for his revenge-drilling of Jesus Sucre in 2018 and then more verbal sparring last season.
For Cash, however, this was taking the arms race too far. He even believed Masahiro Tanaka hit Joey Wendle intentionally with two outs in the first inning, but the Chapman purpose pitch really lit his fuse.
“It's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It was mishandled by the Yankees, certainly the pitcher on the mound, it was mishandled by the umpires. Chapman comes in, he throws three different balls up-and-in. I get it. They don't like being thrown up-and-in. But enough's enough. We're talking about a 100-mph fastball over a young man's head, and it makes no sense.
“It's poor judgment, poor coaching. It's just poor teaching what they're doing and what they're allowing to do.”
For all of Cash’s legitimate anger, going nuclear on the whole Yankees’ organization was a bit extreme. Boone said afterward that he has a “good relationship” with Cash and would talk to him if he felt that was necessary, but those comments were pretty disrespectful to a fellow manager. Privately, Boone had to be fairly ticked off himself, and he didn’t think a warning from MLB was out of the question.
“Well, maybe based on those comments,” Boone said. “And if it gets inflamed any more, I guess that's possible.”
The situation is beyond inflamed at this point. Cash made sure of that with his fiery postgame commentary. Wednesday’s series finale is the last time the Yankees and Rays will meet during the regular season, but October could be in play for a rematch. After years of this, there’s no way things will have cooled off by then.