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Think of this thrilling, 10-inning, 8-4 Yankees victory over the Rays Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field, the type of win that can steady a heretofore wobbly team, as the baseball equivalent to the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake.
Aaron Boone’s bunch pulled off an impressive feat. Yet the Yankees’ nemeses eagerly await their next encounter.
For if the Yankees prevented a Rays sweep, they did not avoid further inflaming this rivalry thanks to their pitchers hitting four Tampa Bay batters over the weekend, once each Friday and Saturday and then twice on Sunday.
“It happens basically every series with them, and it’s something that we’ve got to stop,” said the Rays’ Austin Meadows, “because being a hitter and having that in the back of your mind is not a good feeling.”
In the bottom of the first inning Sunday, Meadows took a 93-mph Jordan Montgomery fastball to his front shoulder, enraging the Rays’ dugout and prompting the umpires to warn both benches against any further such violence. Montgomery nevertheless hit Meadows again in the fifth inning, this time on his left (back) hand, although the umps huddled and decided to let the Yankees’ southpaw stay in the game due to a lack of intent; the Rays didn’t object to this afterward.
No, what left the Rays salty was the volume of HBPs and the overall recent history of violence between these two clubs, which Tampa Bay feels has been one-sided — since the start of 2018, including last year’s American League Division Series, the Yankees have hit 30 Rays while the Rays have hit 17 Yankees — and not properly handled by the sport’s sheriff.
“Do I personally think the guy was trying to hit him? I do not,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said, referring to Montgomery’s first HBP of Meadows. “But this continues to roll over. It’s been so grossly mishandled by Major League Baseball last year. … There isn’t any recourse 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, and I don’t care whether he did it on purpose or not.’ ”
Cash added, “Major League Baseball is here to protect its players on both teams. On all 30 teams. And I don’t think they did that last year. They could have done a better job and maybe [then] we move past this.”
Regarding MLB’s purported “gross mishandling,” Cash acknowledged he was referring to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman receiving a mere three-game suspension (which was shortened on appeal to two) for throwing behind Mike Brosseau’s head last Sept. 1: “Oh yeah, without a doubt. And I know [Masahiro] Tanaka’s over in Japan, but he got off scot-free. He hit Joey [Wendle] definitely intentionally [the same night] and nothing we can do about that.”
The Yankees, relieved to execute this come-from-behind (twice) victory, expressed no fighting words about the situation. Said Montgomery: “I wasn’t trying to [hit Meadows], … but I understand the umpires are trying to control the situation, I guess.”
“Definitely no intent, but I understand their anger,” Aaron Boone said. “You see Meadows get hit up around the shoulder, I’d be upset on our side, whether it’s intentional or not. I think it was clear that Monty was really struggling to find his command there in the first couple of innings and it got away from him.”
Their anger spread far and wide. Said Rays catcher Mike Zunino about the four hit batters in the series (as per the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin), “If it is coincidence, it’s crazy it happened three days in a row.’’
Asked how the Rays could “stop” this, Meadows said, “For us, I think we do a good job as a team of not retaliating, just continuing to play the game and let our playing do the talking. And that’s probably a good strategy to have.”
The Rays are the Terry Benedict to the Yankees’ Danny Ocean. They’ll be back for the sequel, Friday night in The Bronx. At a time when so many find the sport too long and short on action, baseball should be thankful for Yankees-Rays (although yeah, maybe more policing to ensure things don’t get out of hand).