Forget the vitriol that comes with Yankees, Red Sox in the playoffs, the Bronx Bombers are meeting a Tampa Bay Rays team in the ALDS beginning Monday — and these are two teams that simply don’t like each other.
Hours before the Yankees won a wild Game 2 over the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night to advance to the ALDS, the Rays got their first, dominating the Toronto Blue Jays in an 8-2 game to finish off their Wild Card Series sweep.
Now, an all-AL-East matchup is set to rehash some bad blood.
The Rays took eight of 10 regular-season matchups in 2020 from the Yankees — an enormous reason why they came away with the American League East title while the Yankees got the No. 5 seed in the postseason and had to go to Cleveland.
Tampa Bay is the antithesis of what the Yankees are: Their lineup is not dotted with household names that the casual baseball fan can easily identify, their backbone is strong pitching, and they can play small-ball.
“They’ve been the best team in our league all year, so we’re excited to go play the best team,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday morning. “Hopefully, we can have our way with them this time. We know they’re going to be a challenge, we know they’re going to be tough, we know they’re going to be ready for us, but we look forward to that challenge and hopefully, we can turn the tables on them.”
The advantage in this series may very well go to the team that can keep the coolest head, however.
New York’s rivalry with the Rays has been cagy for a few years now, which was sparked in 2017 when Rays starter Matt Andriese drilled Aaron Judge in the ribs, prompting an immediate ejection. This after Yankees reliever Tommy Layne hit Corey Dickerson an inning earlier.
Former Yankees starter CC Sabathia added fuel to the fire on multiple occasions, leaving the dugout to confront the Rays after Austin Romine was buzzed by a pitch during a 2018 game. He proceeded to hit Jesus Sacre in the thigh the very next inning and was ejected, yelling ““That’s for you, [expletive]!” toward the Rays dugout while making the walk back to the clubhouse.
Last year, Sabathia tried to hit Austin Meadows after Luke Voit was plunked and months later, aggressively stared down Avisaíl García following a strikeout that prompted benches to clear.
Sabathia’s retirement did little to ease tensions between the two clubs as things came to a head during MLB’s truncated 60-game season.
In an Aug. 9 meeting, both Boone and hitting coach Marcus Thames were ejected after arguing about pitches they deemed were little too high-and-tight to Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu.
Their actions were deemed “a little childish” by Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe.
Three weeks later, after Masahiro Tanaka plunked Joey Wendle in the first inning, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman buzzed a 101-mph fastball just over the head of a ducking Mike Brosseau in the ninth inning of a rare New York win.
Benches cleared shortly after Brosseau’s game-ending strikeout with Chapman having to be restrained while members of the Yankees were chirping Brosseau from the dugout.
Yankees and Rays benches clear after Chapman threw at Mike Brosseau's head 😳
— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) September 2, 2020
The closer was suspended three games while Rays manager Kevin Cash laid the foundation for the animosity that will surely be present during this ALDS.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. It was mishandled by the Yankees and certainly [Chapman], it was mishandled by the umpires. They hit Joey Wendle intentionally… it was clear as day.
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. It makes no sense. It’s poor judgement, poor coaching, it’s just poor teaching what they’re doing and allowing 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 has to be accountable.”
I have a whole damn stable of guys that can throw 98 mph. Period.”
The ALDS will be in its normal best-of-five format, but all games will be played in one of MLB’s postseason bubbles at Petco Park in San Diego.